Making a Business of Positive Impact
Centred on health, education and financial empowerment, the Ecobank Foundation is dedicated to improving the quality of life across Africa. Elisa Desbordes-Cissé tells us more
Written by: Elisa Desbordes-Cissé, Head of Ecobank Foundation
Today, the world is prioritising the Ukraine-Russia war and over the past two years, interest has been largely focused on the COVID-19 pandemic. All the while, malaria remains a grave concern in Africa, and especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Even though the pandemic is not yet behind us, its consequences have been significantly reduced. It is now time for diseases like malaria to receive the attention they deserve.
Despite remarkable progress in the past 20 years, malaria remains a leading cause of ill-health and death in sub-Saharan Africa, where only six countries account for over half of all malaria cases globally.1 In 2020, Africa accounted for 602,000 - or 96 percent of malaria deaths around the world, and 80 percent of these deaths were of children aged under five years old. The same year, 34 percent (or 11.6 million) of expecting mothers in Africa suffered from malaria, resulting in 819,000 children born with low birthweight, putting them at increased risk of long-term health problems.
Malaria is more than just a health issue, however. It is also a socio-economic issue affecting us all in one way or another, including business productivity, educational attainment and families’ disposable income. For example, Africa loses 4.3 billion workdays and 1.5 billion school days due to malaria each year.2 A single episode of malaria costs a family on average nine USD, or three percent of the average annual income, and a person suffering from malaria can lose one to three weeks of work per episode.3 The World Bank estimates that 100 million people are pushed into poverty due to catastrophic health expenditures such as this.4
This has a significant impact on our businesses and Africa’s economy, with research suggesting that the presence of malaria in some African countries reduces annual GDP growth by up to an estimated 1.3 percent.5 Essential services are also under pressure. To take just one example, according to Uganda’s Ministry of Health, malaria accounts for 30-50 percent of outpatient visits at health facilities, 15-20 percent of all hospital admissions, and up to 20 percent of all hospital deaths. For any African business, this should be cause for concern.
We know that malaria has a wide-ranging impact on many sectors of society, including the private sector. It is for this reason that we call on ALL to join the movement for malaria elimination. As one of the oldest and most pernicious diseases on the planet, malaria requires a whole-of-society approach and cannot be solely the burden of the Ministry of Health.
Unfortunately, unlike modern outbreaks such as Ebola and COVID-19 which attract global attention, the age-old malaria continues to quietly decimate our people with limited attention. Echoing Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director General of the World Health Organization, we might indeed question whether malaria would have had more attention if it was affecting other regions.5 It is a silent health emergency, one that we all too often overlook because we have grown up with it, yet it continues to kill our own.
Private sector companies have a particularly important role to play as stakeholders in an economy that is deeply affected by malaria. For labour-intensive companies afflicted by high-absenteeism in malaria-endemic regions, for example, investments in long-lasting insecticide nets or Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) in local communities have shown to pay for themselves in higher productivity. Perhaps more importantly, the private sector can leverage its corporate social responsibility and marketing resources to support the malaria fight, for example to deliver behaviour change communication campaigns to employees and in the community. There is also scope for win-win results here through innovation and public-private partnerships that both boost companies’ visibility and brand awareness and serve to reduce the grave malaria burden inflicted on our communities.
By working together, we can have a greater impact against this disease. That is why, in 2020, the Ecobank Foundation partnered with not-for-profit organisation Speak Up Africa and the RBM Partnership to End Malaria to launch the Zero Malaria Business Leadership Initiative, which aims at mobilising private sector companies to contribute to malaria control and elimination efforts. The initiative is currently being implemented in five countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Senegal, Ghana and Uganda.
With an initial donation of $120,000 per country, and a deep commitment to bring our expertise and network of business clients and partners to bear on this critical public health challenge, the Zero Malaria Business Leadership Initiative will strengthen existing resource mobilisation efforts at the national level and support the effective implementation of countries’ national strategic plans for malaria control and elimination.
I call on all companies, large and small, to join us so that together we can take our continent to a prosperous, malaria-free future.