End of malaria in sight

By Jonathan Tahir and Patrik Silborn

Editorial published by The Jakarta Post 24 August 2019

This week marks World Mosquito Day. Why have a special day for the mosquito you may ask? It commemorates Sir Ronald Ross’ discovery in 1897 that female mosquitos transmit malaria between humans. It’s also a day to recall that the mosquito is still the animal that kills the most humans. No other animal comes even close.

Malaria may have killed the most people in history. More than any other disease. More than all wars combined. And more than every natural disaster. It used to wreak havoc here too. Just a few years ago, malaria was endemic everywhere in Indonesia. On every island and in every city and village. But something astonishing has happened.

In the last 10 years, malaria cases in Indonesia have dropped by almost half and the number of deaths attributed to the disease has plummeted. Today, over 70 percent of people in Indonesia live in areas that have been certified as free from malaria by the Health Ministry. For the first time in history, we can imagine a future completely free from the disease.

Who are the unsung heroes behind this success? As is often the case for difficult problems, it takes a village. Many different actors came together in a broad partnership — the government, NGOs, communities, the World Health Organization, philanthropic donors, and international funders of malaria programs — to take control of malaria. In 2015, President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo endorsed the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance road map to eliminate the disease by 2030.

Although we have made great progress, we still have a long way to go. And the last mile may be the toughest one.

In Indonesia’s eastern provinces, especially Papua, malaria is still a severe public health problem. Poverty and poor access to health care continue nurturing malaria. To eliminate the disease here, we must continue the fight against the parasite with time-tested tools like insecticide treated bed nets, rapid diagnostic tests and medicines.

We also need to do more with the private sector. Indonesia is home to world-class businesses with resources, skills, networks and reach. Most importantly, many of them are genuinely committed to the communities where they operate. But to fully leverage the might of the private sector, we need to engage businesses as true partners. And we need an initiative that can unite the most progressive businesses, consumers and health organizations, under one umbrella.

That’s why we launched M2030 in Indonesia on Aug. 22. M2030 is both a movement and a brand. M2030 businesses use the brand for campaigns or for branding select products and services. In return, they pledge funds to fight malaria in the countries where the money was raised.

The inaugural M2030 business partners in Indonesia are Mayapada Healthcare, JD.id, and Sompo Insurance. And we expect that many more will follow. In the future, these M2030 partners will launch their own campaigns to raise awareness and funds for malaria programs in Indonesia.

By 2030, Indonesia could be malaria-free. But the closer we get to ending the disease, the harder it will get to attract resources, attention and tools. With M2030, we and our partners will keep the spotlight on malaria, and remind all of us that the fight is not yet over.

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Jonathan Tahir is cochair of the Tahir Foundation, deputy chairman of Mayapada Group, chairman of Mayapada Healthcare, chairman of Forbes Indonesia and MYP Ltd. Patrik Silborn is head of external relations at the Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance (APLMA) and cofounder and board director of M2030.

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