Comprehensive, Integrated and Hopefully Not Neglected

As we get very close to achieving the Roll Back Malaria Partnership’s 80% target for 2010 in prevention and treatment coverage, there is a tendency to worry when people talk of shifting funding priorities. The HIV community is particularly worried that funding for treatment and control may become stagnant or even decrease. As AFP reported from Johannesburg, “Thousands of protesters marched Thursday against what they say is a softening commitment to fighting AIDS in Africa by the United States and other developed countries.”

Government donors are by and far the biggest contributors to global disease control efforts, but foundations and corporations can set trends and attract attention and thus influence priorities. For example, Melinda Gates, speaking at the recent Women Deliver Conference in Washington addressed the issue of maternal and child health:

We are nurturing a vision that is changing the world. Donors will spend more on women and children, and those donations will be tracked. Developing countries will pass rigorous policies for women’s and children’s health, and fully fund their implementation, and health workers will have the tools and training they need.

Rahim Kanani, reporting on Melinda’s talk, concluded that, “With global leaders convening next week in Canada for the G8 and G20 Summits, maternal and child health is now a top international priority.” And quoted Melinda thus: “The whole world will be looking to us for leadership. We need to be ready with a single plan.”
dscn7723sm.JPGThese thoughts are certainly in sync with the current US administrations Global Health Initiative, which seeks an integrated approach to health care. GHI will “help partner countries improve health outcomes through strengthened health systems – with a particular focus on improving the health of women, newborns and children through programs including infectious disease, nutrition, maternal and child health, and safe water.”

Malaria definitely needs to be part of the integrated mix of maternal and child health (MCH) services. Pregnant women are more vulnerable to malaria; even mosquitoes are more attracted to them. Malaria leads to maternal anemia and death as well as intrauterine growth retardation leading to low birth weight babies, who have a poor chance of survival. Research is finding more about possible links between malaria and pre-eclampsia and postpartum hemorrhage.

There ultimately should be no reason to fear a loss of malaria funding given the strong advocacy initiatives built by RBM partners. Even more, efforts of the integrated approach to strengthen health systems will benefit malaria control and elimination, which requires a strong health system.

And in closing we are reminded that the wealthy people behind foundation and corporate giving can be advocates themselves.  As NPR reported, “Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates and billionaire investor Warren Buffett are launching a campaign to get other American billionaires to give at least half their wealth to charity.” We trust that malaria control within an integrated MCH program will remain part of this charitable urge.

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