The Business Case for Malaria Prevention: Employer Perceptions of Workplace LLIN Distribution in Southern Ghana

Kate Klein as part of her Master of Science in Public Health program in Social and Behavioral Interventions at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health undertook a study of the potential for private sector involvement in malaria prevention in Ghana. She shares a summary of her work here. During her practicum in Ghana she was hosted by JHU’s Center for Communications Programs and its USAID supported VectorWorks Program. Her practicum she was also supported by the JHU Center for Global Health, and she presented her findings in a poster at the CGH’s Global Health Day on 30th March 2017. Her essay readers/advisers were Dr. Elli Leontsini (Department of International Health) and Kathryn Bertram (Center for Communication Programs).

Malaria is endemic in all parts of Ghana and significantly burdens families, communities, and economies. Malaria remains a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in Ghana; it accounts for eight percent of deaths in the country (The Global Fund, Ghana). It was also responsible for about 38% of outpatient visits, 27.3% of admissions in health facilities, and 48.5% of under-five deaths in 2015 (Nonvignon et al., 2016). In Ghana, the estimated cost of malaria to businesses in 2014 alone was estimated to be US$6.58 million, and 90% of these were direct costs (Nonvignon et al., 2016). Malaria leads to reduced productivity due to increased worker absenteeism and increased health care spending, which negatively impact business returns and tax revenue to the state (Nabyonga et al., 2011).

Although long-lasting insecticidal treated nets (LLINs) are a well-documented strategy to prevent disease in developing countries, most governments, including Ghana, lack the resources needed to comprehensively control malaria. The Global Fund (GF), USAID/President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI Ghana), and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DfID Ghana) are the main donors for the national malaria control strategy and have worked primarily with the public sector (World Malaria Report, 2015). As government funding remains unable to close the funding gap for malaria, there is an increasing need to revitalize the private sector in sales and distribution of this life-saving technology.

A “Journey mapping” exercise to consider the process of employers buying and distributing nets to employees, created during a PSMP advocacy workshop in December 2016

Ghana is looking to the private sector to encourage a departure from previous dependence on donor-funded free bed nets. The Private Sector Malaria Prevention (PSMP at JHU) project is being implemented in Southern Ghana to increase commercial sector distribution of LLINs. Three case studies served as a situation analysis and exemplified the potential for the PSMP: a rubber producing company, a mining company and a brewery.

All three had experience in malaria control and prevention but only one had specific experience with LLINs (which dovetailed well with its own corporate strengths in logistics management as exemplified by other bottling companies in Africa). Another supported the idea of adding LLINs to its existing indoor residual spraying and community health education efforts, but needed to consider how to develop the flexibility to engage in multiple malaria interventions.

The third had had the right climate and leadership to be able to partner with PSMP, but recently underwent a takeover by a large multinational brewing company and the resulting period of transition could potentially complicate their participation in LLIN distribution efforts from a budgetary standpoint. Generally these companies had the understanding of the potential benefits to the company of situating malaria control within their structure, and thus being early candidates for adoption of the PSMP.

While the three case study companies recognized the business case for malaria, this was not a unanimous opinion among other five companies interviewed. Their concerns ranged from a preference toward treatment interventions to concerns expressed by employees about the difficulty of achieving high levels of net usage due to an array of complaints surrounding sleeping under LLINs. Some of these others had financial constraints.

Through case studies and interviews PSMP was able to identify various challenges moving forward as well as areas where further clarity must be sought. PSMP learned that several companies are pouring their resources into strong treatment and case management programs, and one challenge will be determining how to push for preventative action, such as LLIN distribution, when treatment mechanisms are so established and bias exists.

For those companies who are making tremendous strides in malaria prevention, bringing recognition to these successes through advocacy will be necessary for encouraging future participation and convincing other similar employers of the benefits of starting their own LLIN distribution programs. Finally, PSMP needs to prioritize clarifying viewpoints on LLIN efficacy and use, with a focus on understanding why employers may hold unfavorable views and what it would take to overturn them.

In the future it will be necessary to move beyond the occupational considerations specific to mining and agro-industrial operations and consider how the work has changed the environment into a malaria habitat and the non-traditional work hours that may create more significant Anopheles mosquito exposures. PSMP should gather specific information on lifestyle, housing, and work environments during future visits with employers so that companies that have the most to gain through LLIN distribution are identified and targeted.

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