Why Parliamentarians play a pivotal role in the fight against malaria

Opinion • 16 November 2020

By Hon. Moses Baimba Jorkie, Chairman of the Health Committee and Honourable member of Parliament.

Headaches, high temperatures and feeling hot and shivery: these are just some of the symptoms that millions suffering from malaria face each day. Malaria – one of the world’s oldest and deadliest diseases – continues to devastate populations, particularly in Africa, with the continent accounting for over 90% of the global malaria burden. As a major block to all forms of development, malaria continues to cause needless suffering, dismantle families, and hinder economic growth. 

I am proud to represent citizens of Sierra Leone in Parliament, as protecting the population from malaria is of critical importance. As well as being a pressing health issue, malaria’s immense economic toll continues to overwhelm communities across Africa and even with the incredible progress that has been made over the last decade, we must still endeavour to keep up our momentum in our fight for elimination.

Despite the challenges we face, Sierra Leone is undoubtedly a leader in the fight against malaria, with huge progress made in the last decade. Between 2010 and 2018 we reduced the number of deaths by an astonishing 77% – the highest reduction in all of western Africa. This has been achieved through both the sustained commitment from our government to provide essential prevention and treatment to everyone, and through the great efforts by community leaders to encourage the use of these essential interventions. In fact, Sierra Leone is the only country in Africa to roll out Intermittent Preventive Treatment for infants (IPTi) to every region and to make mass distributions of bed nets to its citizens.

Last week, members of the Sierra Leone Parliament attended the Zero Malaria Parliamentary Engagement Forum as part of the Zero Malaria Starts with Me campaign, joining together in our collective commitment to ending malaria. Launched in Sierra Leone on World Malaria Day last year, the continent-wide campaign builds solidarity and multi-sectoral collaboration across Africa with the aim of eliminating malaria by 2030. As parliamentarians, we have an important role to play in this, and the Health Committee remains deeply committed to helping drive advocacy towards malaria elimination within parliament and government as a whole.  

There is a certainly a push now towards pre-elimination and, in time, elimination of malaria in Sierra Leone by 2030. To make this goal possible, we must encourage a spirit of inclusion, solidarity and collective responsibility. All sectors of society must be mobilised to play their part, starting with elected representatives. Political engagement is so important to combatting malaria as parliamentarians can use their influence and platforms to support initiatives, to sensitize their constituents and to ultimately help make key decisions regarding policies and budget allocations.

Evidently, government funding for health is vital, yet Sierra Leone only spent 11% of its total governmental budget on health in 2019 – well below the 15% stated in the Abuja Declaration. Whilst the vast majority of malaria funding comes from international donors, domestic financing remains very low. In fact, there remains an estimated $2 billion annual global shortfall in funding, and in order to bridge this gap national resources from both public and private sectors must be ramped up if we hope to eliminate malaria by 2030. 

As a country, Sierra Leone not only supports the goal to eliminate malaria by 2030, but we are ready to do whatever necessary to make this a reality. At the Zero Malaria Parliamentary Engagement Forum, 72 parliamentarians signed declarations of support for this target and for the specific advocacy goals relating to domestic resource mobilisation, marking a pivotal point in our battle against malaria. 

Eliminating this deadly yet treatable disease would have profound benefits, resulting in an estimated $2 trillion boost to the global economy and saving countless lives. With so much to gain, we must take our opportunity to end malaria for good. 

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