I am not going to beat about the bush. We need you. This is your chance to make a difference in the fight against malaria. I know if someone had said that to me 3 months ago, my first question would be “How can I make a difference? Aren’t there already a lot of people working on it, and what can 1 person possibly do, that too in 10 minutes”? The more I have learnt about the challenges in combating malaria, I have realised that this is a disease that needs unrelenting, tireless focus until malaria is eliminated. This means each of us has to play our part, in order to accelerate our efforts until the battle is won!
The power of one (whether it is a mosquito or a human)!
Anyone working on malaria will tell you that although several times in history we have celebrated our successes, such as with the introduction of insecticide treated bed nets, new drugs, new malaria testing kits, the threat persists until the disease is eliminated. Why? Because all it takes is one mosquito infested with parasites to infect one human, that human then will be the host for infecting several new mosquitoes – and before you know it the gains in the battle would have been reversed! But, individuals have also played an amazing role in turning the tide on this disease that has existed for millennia: Sir Ronald Ross who found the malaria parasite and proved the role of mosquitoes in malaria; Tu Youyou, a Chinese scientist, who won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for her discovery of artemisinin, which is part of the standard treatment worldwide for P. falciparum malaria; Brian Gitta, who recently invented a non-invasive malaria test; countless health workers around the world that save lives every day. So, you too have the “power of one” to make a difference.
Doom and gloom, or Jump for Joy?
The statistic that always blows my mind is that a child dies every 2 minutes from malaria (how long has it taken you to read this far?). It seems like an impossible task until you realise that the world has come together like never before to combat this disease. There are amazing partnerships in the malaria community, such as the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, which provides a unifying platform to engage the many organisations that work on malaria. There are regional forums of leaders who have committed to combating malaria, such as Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA) and African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), and strong advocates such as Bill Gates and many others who are working tirelessly on this cause. Despite this, there is still a lot to be done.
I love a deal that saves money
The biggest challenge (the thing that determines if we win or lose this battle) is the funding gap for the tools needed to combat this disease adequately. And, there is a strong economic argument to support malaria elimination – for every $1 spend on malaria, it is economically benefiting the countries by $36. And, what’s even better is if we can raise a bit more money in the short term, we can eliminate the disease and stop spending any money on it in the long term. So by my calculations: Spend $6 billion for the next 15 years = $90 billion spend; or spend $3 billion for the next 100 years = $300 billion spend, and the latter approach might not achieve the objective, as the parasite is evolving faster than our innovations. And, unlike other diseases such as diabetes and cancer, we can end malaria for good – so we can save ourselves $210 billion in the long term!!
Win:Win:Win (for the world’s citizens, the countries, and the companies)
The challenge with funding is that a lot of the existing partners have already been supporting anti-malaria efforts for many years, and although their commitment will persist, it is not raising all the money that is needed. What is urgently needed is new partners in the fight. Particularly private sector partners, and since all the best deals mean a win:win for both parties, we have to ask the question, who will win the most if malaria is eliminated? It won’t necessarily be the traditional partners who have been fighting malaria – the ones who are developing insecticides, drugs, bed nets, vaccines, tests – that will win if the outcome is achieved. In fact, their products will no longer be needed. But, they will succeed in having built up trust in those markets to open up new opportunities – and here lies the answer to who else will win. If malaria is eliminated, there is a win for the people who live in those countries (in terms of reducing morbidity and mortality), as a result of which educational opportunities and employment opportunities will be enhanced. This will lead to economic growth of the countries themselves. And most of all, the winners will be the private companies operating within these regions who will be able to maximise their presence and capitalise on the increased spending power of the consumers, who have contributed to the economic growth of the country. Africa is very rich in resources (oil, coal, sugar, cocoa, vegetables, etc) and businesses that work in these sectors (most of which are international companies) would benefit the most if African countries were to beat malaria. So, economically, the world would benefit.
What can you achieve in 10 minutes?
This is very simple. I’m sure you’ve heard of the “six degrees of separation”, an idea that everyone in the world can be connected in fewer than six steps. Herein lies the power of connections – introducing “a friend of a friend, to a friend”. My ask is to open up your contacts book and introduce your friends to people who can help move the cause forward (whichever cause you choose). In my case, I am advocating for ending malaria, but there are many causes out there that would have the same ask, if only you were willing to help. During my PULSE assignment, I have also realised the power of a connection – and conversely, the lack of response with a cold call/email approach.
The 10 minute ask:
Do you know people in the private sector working for and with businesses who are likely to share our vision of a malaria free world and could help us get there, particularly companies interested in Africa or India? It would also be helpful to be put in touch with celebrities who can use the power of their voice, or politicians, or faith leaders in these countries. If these people are in your network, are you willing to spend 10 minutes talking to them about why malaria is such an important cause, and ask for their support? Lastly, if they were interested, would you be happy to put us in touch?
If you know no one in your network that can help us, please share this post, so you can help us find other connections. I look forward to hearing from you on how you spent your 10 minutes and sharing with you how I have spent the last few months, trying to make each minute count.