The recent African Union Summit in Egypt came to a close with Civil Society and Non-Governmental Organizations questioning whether the organization had the strength and will to tackle the really serious issues facing the continent. The Inter Press Service of Johannesburg reported that, “some civil society groups felt that the AU Summit lacked the critical analysis and genuine commitment to action needed to bring forth positive interventions in conflicts such as that in Zimbabwe or on other critical issues in Africa.” In addition, “Members of the NGO community criticised the summit for not devoting enough time to pressing issues such as the ongoing food and health crisis in Africa.”
News coverage of the Summit, especially in the North, was dominated by Zimbabwe’s plight, and doubts that the African Leaders could do much of substance to this thorn in their side. The New York Times, for example, editorialized that, “The signals from Mondayâ€™s opening session of the African Union summit, with Mr. Mugabe smugly in attendance, were not encouraging.”
The theme of this Summit was “Meeting the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) on Water and Sanitation.” A report on the Status of Malaria in Africa was also scheduled. The report issued two years ago at AU’s AIDS, TB and Malaria special Summit noted progress in policy and planning, but deficiencies in monitoring and evaluation. Concern was expressed for greater coordination on treatment/drug policies among countries. Slow implementation of IPTp was noted. The report also highlighted difficulties in achieving ITN/LLIN coverage and its proper measurement.
Then last year the AU launched the Africa Malaria Elimination Campaign. The AU communique stated that, “Stakeholders at all levels were called upon to scale up efforts and supplement each otherâ€™s role. The AU Commission should ensure that Malaria Elimination for eventual Eradication is kept high on the agenda of the AU, RECs and international organisations.” With this developing history, we are more than curious to know the next steps against malaria outlined at the 11th AU Summit.
There are many reasons for concern about the effectiveness of international and regional bodies like the African Union. One would hope that such a body could foster healthy competition among members to work toward eliminating malaria. Also as the theme of this year’s World Malaria Day makes clear, malaria is a disease without borders, and regional cooperation is needed. If all leaders at such assemblies can do is find ways to avoid embarrassing each other, there is not much hope that they can successfully tackle a disease like malaria.