By EDGAR CHAGWA LUNGU –
FOR much of the world, malaria is a disease people worry about when they travel abroad. But for citizens from many Commonwealth nations it is no holiday disease. Malaria is a very real scourge that targets the most cherished members of our society — pregnant women and children below the age of five. Our labour force is plagued by days away from work due to illness, or time spent as a carer for a sick member of the family. Malaria is the biggest cause of attendance at health facilities, and every Zambian family has lost someone to it, myself included.
We have refused to accept this burden as the story of our lives. I look back with nostalgia to the days when the urban parts of the Copperbelt Province were malaria-free because the mining industry took steps that kept the disease away. We can achieve this again.
My government has resolved to eliminate malaria by the end of 2021 — nine years earlier than the African Union target. This is a huge ambition but we have demonstrated what can be achieved through concerted, consistent and coherent actions rooted in the community. We have already achieved near elimination in two of Zambia’s 10 provinces.
Across the country, we have reduced deaths by 70 per cent in the past five years. We have gone back to the basics, deploying an army of community and public health workers. We have deployed interventions that span mosquito control, case finding and treatment, and enhanced surveillance. I want to eliminate malaria so we can reallocate these resources to growing our economy.
We have leveraged generous support from the Global Fund and the US President’s Malaria Initiative with our own domestic funding. Before 2015, we dedicated $8.5m to malaria programmes. Today we are investing more than $28m every year. New tools, including improved drugs and insecticides and the promise of a vaccine, will invigorate the fight. With focus, the right investments and co-operation with international partners, this fight can be won.
Zambia has become a model for best practice. On April 25, I will launch the End Malaria Council, tapping our best minds. I want to eliminate malaria so we can reallocate these resources to growing our economy. I have prioritised investment in health to enhance human development as the bedrock for our national aspiration of becoming a prosperous middle-income nation by 2030.
The writer is President of the Republic of Zambia
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