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The ALMA matter

By Carlton Cofie - Ghana

The inclusion of African leaders in the protracted war against malaria has long been anticipated by experts who argued rightly that except the leaders joined in the campaign other stakeholders labour in vain to control the Africa’s biggest killer.

The promise of good results from this development actuated the WHO Malaria Programme Manager for Africa, Dr George, Ki-Zerbo, to describe the creation of an African Leaders Malaria Alliance, ALMA, as crucial and timely, coming just at the juncture of the decade to roll back malaria, when the continent is pursuing the attainment of health-related Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

ALMA’s raison d’ etre, he said,  is in line with the UN Secretary General’s call to ensure universal access to essential interventions, as it will promote action and knowledge sharing in malaria and documenting progress made.

         Dr George Ki-Zerbo, WHO Malaria
          Programme Manager for Africa

In an interview with EYES ON MALARIA, Dr Ki-Zerbo said WHO has issued resolutions at the World Health Assembly and the regional community of ministers of Health in the African region requiring the commitment of more domestic and external resources with health and development partners to help achieve the MDGs.

“It is important that regulatory and policy issues are  implemented at country level to deal with problems of  taxes  and tariffs on malaria commodities and the banning of monotherapies that are no longer effective in curing malaria. These require action at country level and regional economic communities, like the African Union (AU)  and also engaging with industry and urging everybody to consider these tariffs as a threat to the control and eventual elimination of malaria” Dr Ki-Zerbo said.

The Malaria Programme Manager for Africa said the actions are there and clearly outlined with the various resolutions but what is needed now is the political commitment.

                                    African leaders

ALMA, an alliance of 39 African leaders, is chaired by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete and recently elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, as Deputy Chair.

It was launched in 2009 as a collaborative effort of African leaders to work together with the AU, United Nations and other local and international partners to combat malaria in Africa. The alliance seeks to complement efforts that address the challenges of malaria and aims to raise malaria awareness at the global, national and local levels.

The criticism against African leaders is that they are a few steps behind reality. They speak of substantial success in malaria control when in fact mosquito-net coverage in some 20 African countries is merely five times higher today than in 2000.

The reports of significant decline in malaria cases and deaths of up to 80% are coming mainly from low transmission areas. And so the challenges remain.

It is agreed that involving ALMA in the malaria struggle gives the problem a high profile. But for how long will the momentum be sustained?

The general knowledge is that we might have another year or so of a focused battle and then with the vicissitudes of political elections, the heads of state will succumb to other pressures. Not to mention the common practice of politicians to discontinue programmes of their predecessors just to please members of the ruling party and to spite the opposition.

The leadership of ALMA has set itself objectives far higher than the Millennium Development Goal to "halt and begin to reverse the incidence of malaria".

Malaria control is vital to achieving the health-related MDGs. Success against malaria directly impacts MDG 4 which focuses on child mortality and MDG 5 which is on maternal health.  A lot depends on political action rather than words if Africa is to halt this major killer of children and the cause of morbidity among pregnant women.