Malaria eradication isn't the first thing that comes to mind when one imagines an established brand like Access Bank. However, as the American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson made the connection between health and wealth centuries ago, a world-class financial institution in the mould of Access Bank can definitely appreciate the all-encompassing importance of a healthy population.
From the socio-economic to the political, every aspect of living is affected by good health - or the lack of it - and is for this reason that Access Bank under the leadership of Herbert Wigwe has risen to the challenge of eradicating Malaria, a disease that mostly threatens the health conditions of sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the World Health Organization, the African region carries an excessively high share of the global malaria burden. In 2018 alone, the region was home to 93% of malaria cases and 94% of malaria deaths. Nigeria is the most affected country on earth, contributing about 25% to the global malaria cases despite the fact that malaria, a disease caused by the plasmodium parasite is both preventable and curable. Children under five years of age are the most exposed age group. Other vulnerable categories of people include infants, pregnant women and people who are immune-compromised.
Total funding for malaria control and elimination reached an estimated US$ 2.7 billion in 2018, with contributions from governments of endemic countries amounting to US$ 900 million. Access Bank without a doubt has made a dent in these figures through its landmark partnership with the Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria. This unique collaboration, called the Malaria-to-Zero Initiative is an innovative financing platform that aims to galvanize private sector resources and capabilities for sustained support towards averting at least 1 million malaria cases and deaths. This program has been an important first step towards complementing government's effort in achieving its malaria pre-elimination goals.
Since inception, an estimated 273,000 people have been reached, many for the first time in rural communities of Nigeria, not just with testing and treatment, but with potentially life-saving information that has been put in place to prevent the occurrence of malaria. 357 community groups have been empowered and engaged with the technical capacity to roll out useful community interventions. Over 1 million people have been reached across the length and breadth of Nigeria with information, education, and communication materials. Social media has been a useful strategy and as such, over 6 million impressions have been made across several platforms.
Low hanging fruits will always remain easy to pluck but the Malaria-to-Zero Initiative has been just as interested in harder-to-reach communities with about 15 of these communities finally receiving intervention programs for the first time.
Malaria in pregnancy has been one of the most important contributions to malaria morbidities and mortalities, so the Malaria-to-Zero Initiative has been tactical as well, following the evidence and the data to provide almost 5,000 women with long-lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLINs). A notable increase in demand for malaria commodities (40%) has been recorded since the intervention kicked off. The data generated from the program has been instructive. If anything, it points to the effectiveness of structured impact-oriented approaches that can be monitored and evaluated through repeated focus group discussions. For example, so far, 90% of the recipients of the long-lasting insecticide-treated nets report that they have put them to appropriate use.
In 2018, GBC Health's Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa alongside a consortium of partners including the Private Sector Malaria Prevention Project, PSMP at John Hopkins Center for Communication, UK Aid and the National Malaria Control Programme of the Ghana Health Services, conferred the 'Innovation Award' on Access Bank for the institution's active role in combating malaria on the continent. Reacting to the honor, the Bank's Head of Sustainability, Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan highlighted the importance of cross-sector collaborations in eradication efforts and expressed intentions of Access Bank to intensify its effort.
"The only way to end or at least reduce the prevalence of malaria is by organizing and strategically leveraging on the resources, capabilities and the proven expertise of private sector organizations. This is what Access Bank has been championing with the Malaria-to-Zero initiative," she said.
According to the latest World Malaria Report released in December 2019, there were 228 million cases of malaria in 2018 compared to 231 million cases reported in 2017. This represents a decrease in about 3 million cases. The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 405, 000 in 2018, compared with 416, 000 deaths in 2017. It will be interesting to see what the numbers look like as Access Bank continues to champion intervention efforts. There is a template now and other institutions can plug into Access Bank's lead.