The Business of Malaria

This past week eight companies were honored by Global Business Coalition (GBC) on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria for the Fight against Global Epidemics. The malaria winner was Marathon Oil Corporation who “led the formation of a unique $12.8 million public- private partnership which includes Noble Energy, the Government of Equatorial Guinea, Medical Care Development International and leading health specialists.”  Results of the first three years of The Bioko Island Malaria Control Project included a 95 percent reduction in malaria transmitting mosquitoes caught indoors and a 44 percent reduction in the presence of malaria parasites in children. Also commended at the honors ceremony for work on malaria were Novartis Pharma AG, BHP Billiton and AngloGold Ashanti.  According to the New York Times (NYT), $2 million was also raised that night.

The NYT also reported that just a day before the GBC event, “the Millennium Promise, co-founded in 2005 by the well-known Columbia economist Jeffrey Sachs, and Malaria No More, a spinoff started last December, held their first fund-raising dinner” where “an astonishing $2.7 million” was raised.  The amount of money raised at the events would cover only a few months of operation of a national malaria control program in Africa, but it has symbolic value and may stimulate governments in the industrialized world to keep on track with the billions they have promised for disease control.

Other models of business contribution include: discounts on product price, as for example, Novartis selling Coartem below cost, efforts by businesses working in endemic countries work to protect their staff, families and communities from malaria, and of course the contributions of large business-based foundations like those of Gates and Buffet.  The private sector not only finances to its own malaria and disease control projects, but makes contributions to multilateral efforts like the Global Fund (approximately 3% of funds received so far).  The model described in Equatorial Guinea falls within the realm of “co-investment.” GTZ defines co-investment in the context of the HIV/AIDS response: “the term co-investment refers to the harmonized and coordinated joint investment of public and private resources with the common objective to improve equitable access to and provision of HIV/AIDS services.”

dsc02158sm.JPGThe issue is not just the money business brings to the table. Small grants from the philanthropic sections of major corporations can actually sponsor innovative projects that can later be taken to scale. If these innovations are to have a wider impact, business needs to be actively involved in national malaria partnerships.  This was one of the ideas behind the organization of a National Malaria Conference last week in Durban, South Africa.

Joe Nocera of the NYT warned readers that, “… it is probably best not to get too excited, no matter how inspiring the speeches at New York fund-raisers.  Because someday malaria is no longer going to be the pet cause in American boardrooms. And then what?”  One answer may lie in another disease control model, the Mectizan Donation Program, which has been providing free ivermectin for onchocerciasis control for two decades. A second answer may be for large corporations working in Africa to develop national capacity to produce effective and cheap malaria control products. Businesses will likely continue to play a role in malaria control; coordination and partnership is the answer to ensuring that this role has impact.

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