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Celebrity reflections on Africa’s fight against malaria

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22/07/15

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Alberto Leny
in Addis Ababa

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As Africa celebrates a success story from the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), who can better narrate the progress made in the fight against malaria than one of the continent’s celebrities — Yvonne Chaka Chaka.

At the 3rd Financing for Development Conference (FFD) in Ethiopia last week (13-16 July), when I interviewed Chaka Chaka, one of Africa’s top music artistes, she revealed how her experience as UNICEF’s goodwill ambassador against malaria has demonstrated to her the power of research as an effective health intervention tool.

“When I first started as a goodwill ambassador, every 30 seconds a child was dying from malaria in Africa. Now there have been improvements. Beds are empty and children are not in hospital, allowing mothers to go to work.

Yvonne Chaka Chaka, UNICEF’s goodwill ambassador against malaria

Marking her 10th anniversary as an ambassador for the Roll Back Malaria (RMB) partnership, the South African songstress has been able to experience first-hand the effectiveness of evidence-based strategy in relieving the burden of malaria towards the goal of achieving its elimination in Sub-Saharan African countries.

“When I first started as a goodwill ambassador, every 30 seconds a child was dying from malaria in Africa. Now there have been improvements. Beds are empty and children are not in hospital, allowing mothers to go to work,” says Chaka Chaka.

The main contributor to the decline in malaria deaths in Africa has been the use of bed nets and residual spraying of mosquito breeding sites. The RBM partnership notes that since 2000 malaria mortality rates have declined by 47 percent in all age groups, and by 53 per cent in children under five years of age, equating to an estimated 4.3 million malaria deaths averted.

But she says that the fight against malaria is far from being won. “We cannot sit back. We cannot be complacent. The mosquito [malaria vector] is getting cleverer and developing resistance. That is why research becomes another anchor in the war against malaria,” Yvonne explains.

She called upon the 3rd FFD to place finance for health at the top of the agenda and political will from governments, adding that when people are healthy and educated, the economy grows.

According to the RBM partnership and the Global Malaria Action Plan launched in 2008, declines in malaria have allowed most countries to make significant progress towards achieving and reaching their MDGs.

Chaka Chaka was in Addis Ababa at the launch of the Action and Investment to defeat Malaria 2016-2030 (AIM) report – for a malaria-free world to build on the successes. The WHO Global Malaria Programme has developed the WHO Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016-2030, which lays out ambitious targets. AIM describes the actions and investments that will be required to achieve these goals.
“As an African woman, mother and sister I understand the problem. We know the problem. We can solve them. Financing, money from donors, is appreciated. Government and domestic finances are very important to health and to reduce the number of people dying,” Chaka Chaka told me.

“I am happy to have turned 50, but it saddens me to see children under five dying. We have to do it for the sake of our children. We have the resources to build the Africa that we want.”

Perhaps, Africa’s malaria success story could spur actions to tackle other diseases that confront the continent.
 
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.
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