The East African Community (EAC) has launched a new malaria initiative that will enable member states to conduct cross border testing, treatment and monitoring of malaria cases.
The Great Lakes Malaria Initiative (GLMI) coordinated and funded by SC Johnson and the Society for Family Health (SFH) was officially launched on November 18, 2021 in Rusumo- along the Rwanda-Tanzania border, by Rwanda’s Minister of Health alongside his counterparts from Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania.
The initiative comes with inauguration of the first GLMI cross border health post and its proposed service package which will provide malaria treatment and data collection services to be shared between all member states and DRC, but also contain a holistic health approach to nutrition, mental health and infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS among others.
Though Rwanda was the first country to kick start activities under this initiative, Rwanda’s Health Minister, Dr. Daniel Ngamije, said that similar GLMI cross border health posts will soon be inaugurated by each member states as planned and agreed on in previous planning meetings aimed at having a single and solidarity approach to ending malaria in the region.
“The goal is to work together so that when one country is fighting malaria, it is important to share the information, skills and best practices so that all neighboring countries can collectively collaborate in responding to their own country-based malaria programs,” Dr. Ngamije said.
This means that all regional countries will have to set up routine community testing, treatment and prevention methods stipulated under the proposed service package aimed at reducing to zero all malaria cases in the region.
Among things to be implemented under the GLMI service package on borders is providing malaria diagnoses, integrated messages on malaria treatment and prevention, distribution of mosquito nets, insecticides, larvicides; indoor residual spraying; collecting samples, perform entomological and resistance tests at centers of excellence but also share data.
This is expected to enable regional countries understand and reduce the malaria burden in the region but also on the African continent which is seen in numbers.
Every year there are more than 200 million new cases of malaria, a preventable and treatable disease.
The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 409, 000 in 2019.
Children aged under 5 years are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria; in 2019, they accounted for 67% (274 000) of all malaria deaths worldwide.
The WHO African Region carries a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2019, the region was home to 94% of malaria cases and deaths.
With combined efforts, Rwanda recorded a drop in malaria incidence from 400 per 1000 in 2016 to 198 per 1000 in 2020 and 114 persons in 2021.
Rwanda continued to witness a decrease in malaria cases from 4.8 million in 2017 to 1.8 million in 2020, a decrease in severe malaria from 18,000 in 2016 to 3,000 in 2020.
Malaria related deaths in Rwanda also decreased from 700 in 2016 to 167 deaths in 2020 and now at 96 cases in 2021.
Though Rwanda leads the rest of the region in curbing down malaria cases with innovation from using indoor residual spray to using drones to spraying mosquitos habitants, and using community health workers on the frontlines, Dr. Ngamije said regional cooperation will enable Rwanda and the region advance its strategies in ending malaria.
This will be possible with a GLMI Malaria Strategic Plan (2021-2025) consisting a gradual annual funding resource mobilization with a total tune of $29.2million in the next five years starting this year with $5.5million and up to $6million in 2025 which will be provided courtesy of SC Johnson $ Johnson.
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The strategy, on regional level also comes with planning, establishing cross border coordination mechanism, strengthening political and policy strategies within and with international institutions, harmonize cross border malaria surveillance, support malaria epidemic preparedness, response and intervention but also sharing collected data and information among others.
“We are committed to supporting this initiative and the plan so as to improve lives of citizens in all possible ways that we can,” said Sukanya Misra, the SC Johnson Associate Brand Manager, Homecare Innovation.
Similarly, Manasseh Gihana Wandera, the SFH Executive Director also committed to supporting the implementation of the strategic plan especially that this has been a long awaited and planned initiative that has required coordinating regional members to agree on steps to be taken.
For the EAC member states representatives Dr. Godwin Mollel, the Tanzania Deputy Health Minister and Kenya’s Chief Administrative Secretary, Ministry of Health, Rashid Aman who is also representing the EAC Health Sector Council said that they too are planning to follow suit on Rwanda’s lead example but with a focus on regional integration of policy and practice and mass mobilization.
These areas, if implemented properly the World Health Organization Country Representative, Dr. Brian Chirombo, who spoke on the behalf of the WHO regional office said that it will create a collaboration that will end malaria in the region.