AU Ministers of Health renew commitment to combat malaria and NTDs in Africa

Published: 25 May 2023

Today, African Union Ministers of Health convened to discuss the critical health challenges of malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). The high level event held on the sidelines of the World Health Assembly brought together ministers of health and development partners. The meeting underlined the importance of global solidarity and shared responsibility with health as a cornerstone for a prosperous Africa, and marked a rejuvenated commitment towards the elimination of malaria and NTDs.

“Significant progress is achievable when there is strong political will, advocates for social and policy change, country ownership, community involvement, solid partnerships, domestic and international resource mobilization, accountability, and a shared sense of urgency. We are optimistic that if we continue to work together, we will win this battle,” said H.E. Ambassador Cessouma Minata Samate, Commissioner for Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development at the African Union Commission.

Progress against malaria remains stalled, and most Member States remain off-track to achieving the African Union’s goal of eliminating malaria in Africa by 2030. Africa continues to bear the highest malaria burden. According to the WHO’s World Malaria Report 2022, 96% of all malaria cases (238 million cases) and 98% of all malaria deaths (603,877 deaths) occurred in Africa in 2021. While 8% of deaths in children under the age of 5 globally are due to malaria, 17% of deaths in under 5 children in Sub-Saharan Africa are due to malaria. This burden undermines our collective social and economic development and is a barrier to achieving the objectives of our Agenda 2063.

Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) continue to be a devastating health challenge in Africa. According to WHO, Africa accounts for nearly 40% (400 million people) of the global burden causing severe pain, disabilities, and deformities. The Neglected Tropical Disease global roadmap 2021—2030 has targets to reduce the number of people requiring treatment for NTDs, by 90%; eliminate at least one NTD in 100 countries; entirely eradicate two NTDs – Guinea worm and yaws and finally; reduce disabilities related to NTDs by 75%.

For malaria, 1.5 billion malaria cases and 10.6 million malaria deaths have been avoided over the past two decades in Africa. Similarly, Africa has in the recent years shown remarkable progress towards NTDs elimination goals. This is evidenced by countries such as Togo which become the first country in the world to eliminate four NTDs in 2022, and Malawi which became the first country in Southern Africa to eliminate trachoma in the same year. The discussion also spotlighted a sense of optimism, citing successes such as Togo eliminating four NTDs in 2022 and both Benin and Mali achieving WHO certification for eliminating trachoma as a public health problem. These achievements are stepping stones towards the African Union’s goal of eliminating malaria and NTDs by 2030. With greater commitment, a malaria and NTDs-free future are within reach.

Investment in digital technologies for real-time data collection and analysis is integral to the fight against malaria in Africa. Over 40 African countries are implementing malaria, NTDs, and other health scorecard tools shared through the ALMA Scorecard Hub. This facilitates evidence-informed decision-making, promoting accountability and action.

Twenty seven AU Member States have launched the “Zero Malaria Starts with Me” campaigns, whilst eight AU Member States have launched End Malaria Councils and Funds, with Guinea-Bissau recently launching the first combined End Malaria and NTD council. These country-led initiatives are essential in keeping malaria a top priority, integrating the battle across all sectors and levels, and driving resource mobilisation.

“Mobilizing additional resources, including from the domestic public and private sector, remains crucial for increasing access to essential lifesaving interventions. For this reason, ALMA has called upon countries to establish End Malaria and NTDs councils and funds, multisectoral, high level bodies working to keep malaria high on the national development and financing agenda” said H.E. Ambassador Augusto Artur António da Silva of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau.

Zambia, Kenya, The Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda, Ghana and Tanzania were awarded the Joyce Kafanabo Awards Certificates in recognition of their outstanding performance in digitalisation of data for health through the use of country Scorecards for Accountability and Action.

The meeting made a strong call to action for increased investments in malaria and NTDs and the broader health and development agenda, keeping malaria high on the political and development agenda and concerted global effort and strategic investments to improve health outcomes, enhance prosperity, and build a more equitable world.