Charity Binka, PhD
Executive Secretary, African Media and Malaria Research Network (AMMREN)
World Malaria Day 2020 will occur amid COVID-19. The world will nevertheless need reminding that malaria killed 405,000 million people in 2018 and that zero malaria starts with every one of us.
COVID-19: a threat against malaria?
The fight against malaria must continue with all the energy needed to kick out the disease. But the big question is how differently should we approach the fight this time around? With collapsed economies and distorted global health architecture, situation in post COVID-19 will need a revised approach to keep active the goal of elimination of malaria.
Any lessons to learn?
COVID 19 offers useful lessons; the pandemic has reinforced the importance of the role of the media. Many across the globe have been compelled to stay indoors, afraid to hug, to shake hands, to show affection and to visit loved ones. Their only source of information is the media. Many journalists are risking their lives to bring news about the virus to communities. The celebration of this year World Malaria Day (WMD) will almost universally be media-driven. Planned face to face meetings, including the launch of WMD 2020 in Abuja and the Kigali Summit will now not take place. Instead, online meetings and press releases are being planned. Practitioners in new and traditional media will need to collaborate to ensure the messages from these meetings are carried to the target audiences across the world.
Sustaining the agenda
COVID-19 has highlighted the strategic role of the media in disease control. We have identified new ways to effectively reach communities and to counter fake news. We need to build on our knowledge and press on with the agenda of a world free from malaria by 2030. We need more innovative approaches to convince people to sleep under insecticide-treated nets (ITNs) and adhere to preventive and curative malaria medications. The apparent silver lining in the recognition given to the media will need to be nurtured for the common good of malaria elimination and control of other diseases. Public health and media practitioners will have to renew the commitment to working even more closely together.
‘Zero Malaria Starts with Me’
The retained theme of ‘Zero Malaria Starts with Me’ for WMD 2020 is a reminder that despite COVID-19, we continue to celebrate the incremental successes that have brought down malaria cases and deaths over the past two decades. It reminds us that the elimination of malaria is no longer a dream, but a realistic expectation. It emphasises country ownership and community empowerment for malaria prevention and care.
The African Media and Malaria Research Network (AMMREN) through its work in the past, has proven that this kind of partnership is possible. There is an urgent need to concretise the close partnership that needs to exist between public health and media. There are home grown ideas about malaria in endemic communities. The media could capture the real malaria stories from the communities that can inform malaria policies to make them relevant.
As the popular saying goes, ‘the lack of knowledge, is worse than a disease’, as it constitutes a major drawback to disease prevention and intervention. The media can fill this gap, if used effectively, as it has tremendous influence on the health behaviors of populations. It is time to invest in the media as frontline workers, to achieve the elimination agenda. We need all hands-on deck to maintain the gains made over the past 20 years.