MTN steps up fight against malaria

25 May 2009

Multinational cellular operator MTN is to use its vast presence across Africa to distribute much-needed mosquito bed nets and support awareness education in affected communities as part of its 2010 Malaria Legacy Initiative.

“The adverse impact of malaria in Africa is threatening to derail the continent’s efforts to rid itself of the scourges of underdevelopment and poverty,” MTN corporate affairs head Nozipho January-Bardill told delegates at the biennial African Union Health Ministers conference in Geneva, Switzerland this month.

The conference, held under the auspices of the United Nations, was attended by health ministers and senior health officials from across the continent. MTN was participating at the conference as part of its Malaria Legacy Initiative for 2010, and as the only African global sponsor of the 2010 Fifa World Cup.

“MTN has a large footprint and amazing marketing expertise across its markets in Africa, which we will use to communicate the message of malaria in the run-up to 2010,” January-Bardill said.

Exorbitant, unsustainable cost

January-Bardill told delegates that the economic costs of malaria in affected countries was not only exorbitant, but unsustainable, “especially in a continent where the required health expenditure to combat the disease is approximately 15% of national budgets.

“Of the annual 81 000 deaths resulting from malaria, 91% are in Africa and 85% are children under the age of five,” she said.

The rate of malaria infection had somewhat dissipated over the years, but had since spiked dramatically, particularly in southern Africa, owing to high rainfall and increased migration.

Creating partnerships

January-Bardill said the sheer scale of challenges inherent in some of the company’s operating markets often meant that multinationals needed to partner with governments, NGOs and civil society to alleviate the impact malaria.

To that end, MTN signed a memorandum of understanding in March this year with the Malaria Community, a network of advocacy groups including Malaria No More, the John Hopkins University VOICES Project and PATH MACEPA Project.

“Communities must own the response if malaria prevention is to be successful,” IFRC global malaria programme head Jason Peat told delegates. “Families at risk of being infected with the disease must know how to properly use nets and fully understand the risks they are taking if simple preventive steps are neglected.”

SAinfo reporter

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