Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
We all know that every day, malaria affects the health and wellbeing of populations around the world. On this World Malaria Day, it is also good to remind ourselves how deeply the disease stifles economic success and development.
Every day, malaria threatens the lives of nearly half the global population. The disease killed an estimated 627,000 people and afflicted more than 200 million more in 2012. But the burden of malaria extends far beyond these numbers. The disease is a drain on families, communities and nations, affecting everyone from young children to major corporations. In fact, nearly three out of four companies in sub-Saharan Africa report that malaria negatively impacts business – a truly stunning number.
These losses add up. Malaria leads to health care expenses, absenteeism and lost tax revenue that cost African families and countries billions of dollars in direct costs and lost productivity each year. Families lose as much as 25 percent of their annual income to malaria, and the disease ultimately shortchanges national economies by reducing gross domestic product by as much as 6 percent. These losses are so great that it’s estimated that tackling malaria would result in economic gains of more than $200 billion.
We’ve seen this transformation before. Less than 100 years ago, malaria similarly devastated the American South, killing individuals, lowering productivity, deterring migration into the region and limiting economic growth. However, the United States’ successful elimination of malaria in 1949, among other factors, helped the South enter a period of rapid economic catch-up in the 1950s. It also helped improve literacy rates in comparison to other regions.
While the context is different, a similar transition is possible in Africa and Asia. We have the tools we need to combat – and eventually eliminate – malaria. As a result of scaling up prevention and treatment efforts, malaria mortality rates have fallen by 45 percent worldwide since 2000. Eight African countries are on track to meet the WHO 2015 goal of reducing their malaria case incidence rates by 75 percent. This progress is creating ripple effects in these countries and across the continent
In addition to saving lives, investing in malaria control is helping accelerate progress for other health and development goals. Each dollar that keeps a young person malaria-free also helps keep him or her healthy enough to attend school – and be well enough to succeed. Malaria control efforts also strengthen health care systems at large: for instance, bed nets not only protect families from catching malaria, they also prevent other mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever. Lastly, ensuring that adults remain free of malaria allows them to better support their families and communities, helping countries reach their full economic potential.
Recognizing the widespread benefits of investing in malaria, the private sector has established partnerships with governments and the global malaria community to fight this disease. Companies around the world – from local businesses to multinational corporations – are leveraging their resources and expertise to drive progress against malaria in the communities in which they work.
These investments are seeing results. In Zambia, for example, three companies – Zambia Sugar, Mopani Copper Mines and Konkola Copper Mines – made investments in malaria control that resulted in a 94 percent drop in both malaria cases at company health clinics and malaria-related lost work days. Similarly, work ExxonMobil supported in the Benguela region of Angola led to a 75 percent reduction of malaria incidence in the province from 2009 to 2012. This is strong evidence that companies can help control malaria and protect their workers and their families.
ExxonMobil is proud to stand alongside these companies, and others like them, in the fight against malaria. Having seen firsthand the burden of malaria on our employees and their families, we are committed to doing our part to stem the tide against this disease. Since 2000, we have contributed more than $120 million to support innovative programs that work to prevent, diagnose and treat malaria, reaching more than 105 million people. And through the ExxonMobil Workforce Malaria Control Program, we have educated employees about malaria prevention, diagnosis and treatment.
By maintaining our commitments and forging new partnerships, we can continue to build on the success of the past decade, and secure a more prosperous and healthy future for generations to come.
--Suzanne McCarron is president of the ExxonMobil Foundation