I contracted malaria a few decades ago when I was a little girl, but I remember it as if it were yesterday. With a weakened body, I could no longer eat, sleep, or go to school. The disease took away several of my friends, I was scared of the thought of death. I survived because I was lucky: strong and competent women took me under their wing and restored my health. Even today, communities pay a high price for malaria, and women and girls pay an exorbitant share. This preventable and curable disease is one of the leading causes of death for adolescent girls worldwide. It kills a child every minute.
In the first line
But women and girls are not just patients; they are also health care providers and often first caregivers. When a family member falls ill, it is women and girls who stay home to care for them, miss work or school, and suffer billions of dollars in lost income and productivity each year.
In recent years, great progress has been made in the fight against malaria. I am convinced that this disease can be overcome in one generation. We will only achieve this if we seize the opportunities that arise and invest in initiatives that enable women and girls to play a leading role. The lives and livelihoods of millions of people are at stake.
Fighting malaria, a side victim of Covid-19
This week, world leaders are taking part in the Kigali Summit on Malaria and Abandoned Tropical Diseases on the sidelines of the Commonwealth Heads of Government. This is an opportunity for leaders to make important decisions about where to direct their investments to maximize health impact. Some issues are a priority, and I hope they are on the agenda.
First, the resources of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, a highly effective international organization founded 20 years ago to fight the three diseases, need to be fully replenished. Investing in the Global Fund remains one of the best ways to accelerate progress towards malaria eradication. Over the past two decades, the Global Fund has helped prevent 10.6 million malaria deaths and more than 1.7 billion cases.
Global Fund: African countries double their contribution to HIV, malaria and tuberculosis
Addressing gender and human rights barriers is an integral part of the Global Fund’s work. Through its programs, the organization helps women and girls gain access to health care and opens the door to leadership positions.
The Global Fund needs to raise at least $ 18 billion to continue its work for the next three years. That amount would save another 20 million lives and prevent more than 450 million infections, while promoting gender equality.
Kigali Summit: a historic opportunity to end abandoned diseases
Second, invest in training to increase the number of health professionals in the community. Worldwide, 70% of public health workers are women. They provide a vital first line of protection against public health threats such as COVID-19, especially in isolated communities. Recognizing the critical importance of community health professionals, the Global Fund has funded the training of more than two million of them in the countries in which it invests. These skilled people are needed to prevent, detect and monitor not only malaria but also other diseases – as such, they are an important link in preventing pandemics.
Third, malaria control program managers need comprehensive data to make informed resource allocation decisions to reduce malaria incidence. At this time, data is not disaggregated by gender or age. In these circumstances, it is difficult to understand the impact of the disease on women and girls and to find effective ways to improve their access to life-saving interventions.
Bring real change
The Global Fund works with the countries in which it invests to collect this data through systems such as the Malaria Matchbox, which assesses the validity of existing malaria control services. Today, more than 50% of countries working with the Global Fund provide fully disaggregated data by gender and age. These data help to better understand gender inequality and inform program development, funding and evidence-based policy-making.
As leaders from around the world come together, let’s take this opportunity to make a real difference.
I will stop fighting only when women, girls and families stop living in fear of being overwhelmed by this preventable and curable disease. No time to waste. Let’s invest in what is important for everyone’s health and safety.