By Marie Jeanne Yago, Director of Commercial Banking at Ecobank Burkina Faso
Malaria. One of our longest standing foes, this disease continues to devastate communities across Africa, with its impact hitting vulnerable people the hardest. Whilst there has been remarkable progress in the fight against malaria in recent years, still over 400,000 people continue to die each year from a disease that is entirely treatable and preventable.
To me, what makes this disease even more devastating is that it disproportionately impacts women and girls. Whilst malaria is not gender blind, socio-economic circumstances mean that it impacts women in a very different way to men. The impact is often felt more deeply by women for this reason and for pregnant women, it is greater still. In Africa more specifically, 35% of the 33 million pregnant women living across 33 countries in 2019 (12 million women) were exposed to malaria infection during their pregnancy. Pregnant women have an increased risk of developing severe malaria, and both the baby and mother could experience serious complications.
Along with many other countries around the world this year, in Burkina Faso we have been celebrating International Women’s Day. This year’s international theme is ‘Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world’, and the national theme is ‘Digital financial inclusion for the economic development of women: challenges and perspectives’.
These two thought-provoking themes give us the opportunity to choose to confront malaria once and for all and prevent it from disproportionately afflicting women around the world and in Burkina Faso. Malaria puts women’s lives, education and future potential at risk and we must take a stand to eradicate this discriminative disease and prevent millions of women from suffering.
Today, the fight against COVID-19 is hindering the malaria fight and impacting health systems across our continent. This is why it is key that we take greater action and raise the funding needed to finally eradicate this disease and avert millions of avoidable deaths across Africa.
Despite ongoing efforts to combat malaria, my home country of Burkina Faso is among the ten countries with the highest numbers of cases worldwide and its disproportionate effect on women can be seen here as well, with the prevalence of exposure to malaria infection during pregnancy being 30% or higher in 2019. Gender inequality is a key factor in this disproportionate impact as women often have to ask for their husband’s permission to access treatment, for both themselves and their children. Not only do these gender issues affect access to healthcare, but they also may contribute to the underreporting of malaria cases by women as they remain reluctant to see male health workers for cultural reasons.
For over a decade now, Burkina Faso has consistently allocated at least 15% of its annual public budget to healthcare, but this is not enough. More resources are required to close the US$2 billion malaria funding gap and we must mobilize investments if we want to protect the millions suffering across the country and indeed, the continent.
I believe that the private sector is key to finishing the fight against malaria; they have the financial resources and the capacity to unite numerous partners for this cause. Private sector businesses can not only provide the resources needed to close this funding gap, but they can help to establish educational programs too, spreading awareness across communities and teaching them vital information about malaria that could mean the difference between life and death.
At the Ecobank Foundation, the launch of the Zero Malaria Business Leadership Initiative is among our proudest achievements. In partnership with the RBM Partnership to End Malaria and Senegal-based advocacy and action tank Speak Up Africa, this important initiative seeks to boost private sector engagement and to support the Zero Malaria Starts with Me movement which the African Union endorsed in 2018.
With the help and collaboration of the private sector, we can raise the critical funding needed and advocate for stronger political involvement across the continent. Together, we can unite in the fight for equality and protect millions of women around the continent.