New research has found that youth in South Africa are less likely to agree it is possible to end malaria within a generation than in other countries across the African continent with significantly higher burdens of the disease.
A new survey released by the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, in collaboration with Gallup International, explores attitudes to malaria among young people aged 18-34 in six countries: South Africa, Kenya, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda and Senegal.
The research revealed that while the majority (61%) of youth surveyed believe malaria can be eliminated in their lifetimes, young people in South Africa, which registered just over 3,000 new malaria infections nationwide in 2019, are much less optimistic (47%).
Despite this, the data shows that 7 in 10 young South Africans want to take personal action in the fight against malaria and are most likely to share information about malaria on social media (42%). A quarter also hope to make a difference by calling on national policymakers (27%) or engaging community leaders (21%) to prioritise malaria.
In 2020, frontline health workers and governments, with support from partners, sustained more than 90% of mosquito net distribution and seasonal malaria chemoprevention campaigns in 30 countries, avoiding a worst-case scenario of a doubling of malaria deaths in sub-Saharan Africa.
Yet, the ongoing spread of COVID-19 threatens the malaria response, particularly in the highest burden countries where the rate of progress has slowed in recent years, and the full impact of the pandemic is not yet known. In this context, over half (54%) of young South Africans feel that attention towards malaria in the country has decreased during the pandemic, while a similar proportion (54%) believe their leaders are not giving enough priority to ending malaria.
Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake, United Nations Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth says:
“Health is a human right, not a privilege. No one should get sick and die from diseases that are preventable and treatable. All our efforts in the response and green recovery to COVID-19 need to ensure that other diseases, such as malaria, are not neglected. We must continue to invest in youth-led solutions to combat malaria around the world.”
Zero Malaria champion Bello Abdulhakeem Bolaji, an electrical engineering graduate who co-founded a tech start-up says:
“A malaria-free world is absolutely achievable within a generation, but only with increased action and commitment from all levels of society – from small communities to global policymakers. It’s encouraging to see that youth in both higher and lower burdened countries are so optimistic and passionate about ending malaria. I must now urge all young people across the continent to put this into action this World Malaria Day by calling on their leaders to draw the line against malaria”.
These findings informed ‘Draw the Line Against Malaria’ – a youth-focused, Africa-first global campaign launched by the RBM Partnership and its partners this year. Supported by African icons in sport and culture including Siya Kolisi, Saray Khumalo and Eliud Kipchoge, the campaign urges youth across the continent to take their futures back from malaria – a disease which caused 409,000 deaths in 2019 and continues to prevent children from going to school and realising their full potential.
World Malaria Day 2021 puts the spotlight on nations reaching zero malaria
South Africa’s long history of effective malaria control has led to a low incidence rate, making elimination a feasible prospect. In 2009, South Africa became one of the Elimination Eight countries, a group of nations also including Botswana, Mozambique, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia, and Zimbabwe seeking to eliminate malaria by 2030.
The survey findings are released one month ahead of World Malaria Day 2021, the global awareness day celebrated on 25 April annually. This year’s theme – ‘Zero Malaria – Draw the Line Against Malaria’ – will celebrate progress achieved by a diverse set of countries who have achieved zero malaria since 2000, encourage a growing number of nations on the cusp of elimination, and re-ignite the movement to end malaria in countries still impacted by the disease.
To mark World Malaria Day, on 21st April, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the RBM Partnership will jointly hold the Virtual Forum on Malaria Elimination. On this occasion, WHO will announce 27 countries and territories that have the potential to eliminate malaria by 2025, as well as review progress towards the achievement of the 2020 global elimination milestone of 10 countries recording three consecutive years of zero malaria cases since 2015. These include Sri Lanka, Uzbekistan and Algeria, as well as El Salvador, the first Central American country to be certified malaria-free earlier this year.
In addition, countries around the world will observe World Malaria Day with their own events, with several countries launching nationwide Zero Malaria Starts with Me campaigns and others illuminating landmarks at 21:00 local time on 25th April in a global relay to celebrate progress towards zero malaria around the world and highlight the urgency of ending this disease everywhere.
Dr Abdourahmane Diallo, CEO of the RBM Partnership adds:
“This World Malaria Day we celebrate countries around the globe that have reached zero malaria since 2000, and a growing number of nations that are on the cusp of elimination.
“Yet despite this incredible progress, World Malaria Day must also serve as a crucial reminder for people everywhere that we must accelerate with urgency to fight this preventable and treatable disease that still takes a child’s life every two minutes. Over this past year, COVID-19 has threatened our hard-won progress against malaria, so now more than ever we must make a commitment to end malaria once and for all.”
Ahead of World Malaria Day, the RBM Partnership to End Malaria urges people in Africa and worldwide to Draw the Line Against Malaria at ZeroMalaria.org and join the conversation on social media by using #DrawTheLine, #ZeroMalaria and #WorldMalariaDay.