SADC Elimination 8 leads response to Southern Africa malaria upsurges in the context and burden of Covid-19

GABORONE, Botswana, April 2020/ — As the world grapples with COVID-19, this year’s World Malaria Day also highlights the importance of maintaining high political commitment and sustained resources to support robust health systems and prevent illness and death caused by malaria. COVID-19 is straining national health systems and challenging families, communities and countries, and the Southern Africa region is no exception. Severe disruptions to malaria programming and campaigns – and disruptions in community access to antimalarial medicines – has led to an upsurge in the number of malaria cases recorded in the E8 this year, compared with the same time in the 2018/2019 transmission season.

The region’s data sharing platform for joint regional Epidemic Preparedness and Response (EPR), also called the “E8 Situation Room” convenes countries and partners weekly to take stock of the case burden and prompt urgent action. Currently, 6 of the 8 member countries are in alert mode and have reported increases in malaria cases and higher mortality rates, prompting a state of regional emergency and requiring urgent response and action. Data sharing has been a key pillar of the regional integration towards malaria elimination. More needs to be done in this area to improve the challenges of data quality and timeliness.

E8 Ministers of Health Lead a Call to Action
In response to this emergency, the SADC Elimination 8 Ministers of Health have led a call to action to mobilize additional financial and technical resources to support national/cross border emergencies. They have committed to weekly Ministerial updates to monitor the situation and are re-allocating additional resources within their national budgets to their malaria programs to support emerging needs. Through the regional mechanism, the E8 is mobilizing additional technical support from partners, and procuring malaria commodities to support national emergencies and accelerate the containment of potential malaria outbreaks, as well as maintaining normal malaria mitigation activities.

Greetings to all the E8 Member States and our partners.
Zimbabwe is greatly honoured to have been able to Chair the E8 Malaria Initiative since February 2018 to date, and it is my privilege to present the regional block’s achievements and progress to date as we commemorate the World Malaria Day (which is held on the 25th of April every year). The Theme for this year is “Zero Malaria Starts With Me” and it is very appropriate for all of us in the eight countries that form the SADC E8 Initiative (Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe) as it reminds us of our roles and responsibilities in the elimination of malaria in the sub-region. The E8 is guided by the SADC protocol on Health, the SADC Malaria Elimination Framework and the E8 Strategic Plan, all of which highlight the importance of standardization, harmonization, synchronization and collaboration as critical elements in the fight against malaria particularly across the borders. Since its formation in 2009 the E8 has continued to foster collaboration among Member States and partners to address challenges that go beyond the scope or mandate of any one country including access to services for mobile and migrant populations, resource mobilization and skills sharing.

The regional block has seen a significant reduction of malaria cases and deaths since its formation. However this year’s commemorations for the World Malaria Day is coming at a time when the world and indeed our region is battling with the deadly Covid-19 pandemic and this is not only threatening to reverse the gains made towards malaria elimination but is also over-stretching the health systems and hurting economies of our countries. This scenario calls the need for close collaboration and sharing of lessons learnt as well as best practices by member states. It is important that as we focus our efforts on controlling the pandemic we do not lose sight of malaria control and elimination, after all malaria is one of the major causes of mortality in our region and Africa as a whole.

I am pleased to report that as the E8 celebrates its 11th anniversary this year, we do so with our heads held up very high because significant progress and milestones have been achieved to date. Besides the Member States recording varying levels of malaria transmission reductions and mortality rates over the past decade, some of the other major achievements of the E8 include the following:

1. Cross-border collaboration
The E8 has catalyzed the formation of cross-border collaboration platforms such as the Zambia-Zimbabwe (ZAM-ZIM), Mozambique-South Africa –Eswatini (MOSASWA) and the Trans-Kunene (Namibia-Angola) cross border malaria initiatives that have enabled greater coordination and commitment to malaria prevention and response at critical border areas where importation of malaria is high.

2. Regional Surveillance Platform
The E8 created a regional malaria surveillance platform (the E8 Situation Room) and facility for regional collaboration in outbreak monitoring and response. This has improved data sharing across borders, thereby greatly improving the region’s capacity to collectively understand where transmission is occurring and to rapidly disseminate information on outbreaks through the platform.

3. Establishment of border clinics
The E8 supported the establishment of 46 malaria border clinics (a combination of both mobile and static facilities) between 2016 and 2019, with support from the Global Fund and five of these clinics are in Zimbabwe. This development has improved access to malaria services to more than 1 million people with settlements along the borders as well as mobile and migrant populations. Staring from this year, 2020, Zimbabwe has integrated the five E8 Border clinics into the national health system, and efforts are underway to ensure other Member States follow suit.

4. Resources mobilization
The E8 has mobilized over US$40 million in cash and kind with the main funders being the Global Fund, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Global Health Group. Technical support continues to be provided by the World Health Organization, and the Roll Back Malaria Partnership. Strategic direction and leadership continue to be received from the Africa Union, SADC and ALMA.

5. Signing of The Malaria Elimination Declaration
The E8 spearheaded the signing of the Malaria Elimination Declaration (The Windhoek Declaration to Eliminate Malaria) in Windhoek Namibia during the Heads of States and Government Summit held in August 2017. The Declaration reaffirms malaria elimination as a national and regional priority and commits member states to take bold action towards a malaria-free southern Africa by 2030.

In conclusion, we would like to thank all the Government leadership of the E8 Member States, our funding and technical partners, our frontline soldiers–the health workers, the communities and their local leadership for their continued support and for remaining resolute in the fight against malaria.

LINK TO THE E8 ANNUAL REPORT: https://malariaelimination8.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/Elimination_8_Annual_Report_2019.pdf

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