26 February 2020
By Ms. Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr OBE, Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone’s capital city
In early October, the world celebrated as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria declared its funding target of US$14billion to bring an end to the world’s three deadliest diseases was surpassed at the Sixth Replenishment Conference in France.
With this incredible fundraising effort, we now have the opportunity to rid the world of three diseases that have killed millions of people and ravaged communities on every continent. Malaria was responsible for 435,000 deaths in 2017 alone, with a child dying from the disease every two minutes. And whilst we are right to celebrate the outcome of the Global Fund Replenishment, the fight does not end there – more must be done.
In 2016, for the first time in a decade, malaria cases worldwide were on the rise. People in malaria-affected communities still lack access to the means to prevent and treat malaria, and in some countries, malaria had slipped down the political agenda. In response to this situation, the African Union Commission and the RBM Partnership to End Malaria are rolling out a continent-wide Zero Malaria Starts with Me campaign, to reignite a grassroots movement and inspire everyone to play their part in the fight against malaria. Originally launched by the Ministry of Health of Senegal in 2014, with the support of Speak Up Africa and PATH, the expansion of this movement across the continent shows that malaria elimination is a national, regional and continental priority.
Since its launch by African Union leaders in July 2018, the Zero Malaria campaign has gathered momentum, with 10 nations now supporting the continent-wide movement. On World Malaria Day in April this year, Sierra Leone joined the ranks and officially launched its own Zero Malaria Starts with Me. I look forward to seeing communities across our nation reap the benefits that this movement is bringing. My own city Freetown, home to more than 1 million people, is certainly ready to step up the fight against this deadly disease.
Why? Because in my country, malaria is on the rise and the entire population is at risk of the disease. Around 2 million cases of malaria are reported each year, therefore affecting 30% of the 7.5 million inhabitants. In fact, Sierra Leone represented 4% of malaria deaths globally according to the World Health Organization’s latest World Malaria Report. While the disease burden is higher in rural areas, cities can and must get involved in the malaria fight. Ultimately, Zero Malaria starts with each one of us – all citizens have a personal responsibility to protect their families and communities from this preventable disease.
In Sierra Leone, the campaign will look to secure political commitment, attract private sector funding and engage communities in the fight against this disease. The National Malaria Control Programme will also raise awareness at the community level through a multi-layered media engagement strategy and the involvement of key influencers within chiefdoms and local councils, which will also serve to amplify the impact and community buy-in for the upcoming mass mosquito net distribution campaign.
In Freetown, citizens and local authorities are already working under the banner of the Transform Freetown Agenda to create a healthy urban environment, including community engagement campaigns such as the Cleanest Zone Competition to improve sanitation – which even helps to reduce the burden of mosquito-borne diseases like malaria.
As mayors, we have a key role to play in the fight against malaria. Malaria prevention and vector-control measures should be inherently linked to urban development strategies, including new housing and infrastructure projects. By providing well-designed infrastructure and housing projects, improving access to sanitation and drinking water services, and promoting sustainable environmental management, we will reduce the malaria breeding sites and prevent thousands of cases.
This World Malaria Day, I was inspired to see Francophone Mayors come together to sign the “Zero Malaria Starts with Me” declaration, committing to integrate malaria in urban development strategies in support of global efforts towards a malaria-free world. I urge other mayors across Africa to tackle malaria head on through urban development strategies and encourage more communities to join the growing Zero Malaria Starts with Me movement.
Those who are at risk from malaria today are real people, with real lives, real families, in real communities across the world. We must do more to ensure that these people are at the top of government’s priorities, and that policies are made to strengthen health and education systems and ensure that citizens have access to the services necessary to be protected from the deadliest creature on earth – the mosquito. So, will you join us?