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Monday, April 15, 2024

African countries and UNITAID join forces in the fight against malaria

To mark World Malaria Day (April 25), African countries and Brazil organized an event to highlight the quality of Unitaid's partnership with them. The high-level meeting was also an opportunity to raise international awareness of the need to support malaria-affected regions, combat drug resistance and highlight Unitaid's crucial role in ensuring equitable access to innovations to combat malaria effectively.

In the presence of the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, UNITAID Executive Director Philippe Duneton, numerous ambassadors, representatives of major donors and civil society, a high-level working lunch was held in Geneva (Switzerland) to mark World Malaria Day and the extent of collaboration between UNITAID and African countries, which also includes resource mobilization.

UNITAID, a platform for innovation

Since its creation in 2006, Unitaid has played a crucial role in the development of innovative tools, such as vaccines and mosquito-resistant sprays and nets, to combat malaria. The organization's efforts have contributed to a 50% reduction in the number of deaths due to the disease since the early 2000s. Recent achievements include safe pregnancy thanks to malaria chemoprevention in Mozambique, distribution of mosquito nets in Mali, and prevention among children thanks to the Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention Consortium.

Board of Directors 

Chaired by the former French Minister of Health, Marisol Touraine, Unitaid's Board of Directors comprises 13 members. Brazilian Ambassador Cecília Kiku Ishitani opened the meeting in her capacity as Vice-President of the governing body. During her speech, she reminded the audience that her country was a member of the founding group (Brazil, Chile, France, Norway and the United Kingdom) and that, as such, its commitment and willingness to support "the organization's actions and its innovative solutions" that "save lives" is very strong. The Brazilian diplomat rounded off her speech by mentioning the conclusion of pricing agreements "enabling access to essential medicines at affordable prices", as well as "Unitaid's rapid response during the Covid-19 pandemic, which earned it international recognition".

The role of African countries

For over 15 years, Unitaid has worked closely with African countries to identify and implement health innovations that provide solutions to HIV, tuberculosis and malaria. For its 2023-2027 strategy, the international organization has chosen to focus on the fight against malaria. Ambassador Margarita Rosada Silva Izata, Permanent Representative of Angola to Unitaid, in her capacity as head of the African delegation to the Board, declared that it was "imperative to rethink malaria control and elimination strategies". To achieve this, the diplomat stressed the need to adopt "holistic and systemic approaches that include communities and households to effectively stop malaria transmission and deaths". The representative of the group of African countries on the Council reiterated the need for greater investment in the fight against malaria and in key research and development programs, including potentially transformative technologies such as vaccines and genetics. "Experience has shown that with sufficient investment, strong political commitment and the right mix of strategies, it is possible to achieve major breakthroughs in the fight against malaria.

Malaria: the current situation

More than two-thirds of all malaria deaths in Africa occur in young children under the age of five. Thanks to pilot projects co-financed by Unitaid, the Global Fund and the Vaccine Alliance (GAVI), the world's first vaccine (RTS,S) against this infectious disease is currently being administered to African children (Ghana, Kenya, Malawi) as part of a comprehensive preventive care program. In October 2021, the World Health Organization recommended enhanced use of RTS,S in children living in regions with moderate to high transmission. The UN health organization estimates that, if deployed on a large scale, the vaccine could save the lives of an additional 40,000 to 80,000 African children each year. Unitaid is also promoting new-generation tools to effectively combat antimalarial drug resistance, so as not to lose the progress made in reducing cases and deaths.

Financing deficits

The Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have taken their toll on the global economy, including a significant increase in the cost of delivering essential products to combat malaria. Ambassador Margarita Rosada Silva Izata, drew participants' attention to the existence of significant funding shortfalls due in part to the Global Fund's failure to replenish its reserves equivalent to $18 billion. The Angolan diplomat urged countries to work together to fill the gaps, in particular by trying to control the market by increasing production in order to reduce the cost of these products. She also proposed exploring possibilities for technology transfer and local manufacturing in countries where malaria is endemic, while increasing investment in R&D and harmonizing regulations across the continent.