Business Fights Malaria - Today, and Year Round

April 24, 2012

Today is World Malaria Day, when we pause and recognize global efforts to eradicate a disease that has plagued humanity throughout recorded history. This year brings us one step closer to eradicating a disease that in 2010 alone afflicted an estimated 216 million people worldwide – roughly the equivalent of the adult population of the United States – and annually accounts for 10% of the world’s disease burden (World Health Organization). In 2010 malaria took the lives of an estimated 655,000 people, most of whom were under age five and living in sub-Saharan Africa. (World Health Organization).

While the numbers remain sobering, this year we have great reason to celebrate the advances in the fight against malaria. Again, the numbers tell the story: In Africa alone, malaria deaths have dropped by one-third in the past 10 years; 35 of 53 countries affected outside of Africa have reduced malaria cases by 50% within that same period (WorldMalariaDay.org). 

What Business Is Doing

Businesses have been working alongside public sector, NGO and multi-lateral partners for decades to treat the disease and to identify a cure. In preparation for World Malaria Day I reached out to Pfizer, Chevron, GlaxoSmithKline and IBM to learn about their malaria prevention work. Each company is focusing on a facet of the problem that aligns with their core business.

Pfizer

Pfizer’s commitment to combat malaria spans 25 years. The company’s five-year Mobilize Against Malaria (MAM) is the company’s investment in models designed to help close critical gaps in malaria treatment and education in Senegal, Ghana and Kenya. In Kenya, the program is helping to reduce malaria in pregnant women and children under five, two groups most at-risk for malaria-related mortality and morbidity.Pfizer recognized that more than 70% of women attend prenatal clinics at least once during pregnancy so Pfizer and their partners trained clinic employees about malaria prevention and provided improved training, health education and new information packets designed especially expectant mothers.

The MAM project’s work in Senegal is strengthening the country’s system of health huts, rudimentary clinics which are often the only healthcare accessible for rural communities. Recognizing the critically important role these health huts play in the country’s healthcare system, Pfizer and its partners invested in improving their infrastructure, malaria training, supply chain, and provider skills. In Ghana,the program is helping bring the public and private sectors together to find new solutions to the malaria challenge.MAM has trained the licensed chemical sellers,small retail outlets which act as a major source of basic medicines, to recognize malaria symptoms and help improve malaria diagnosis and treat malaria or refer the serious cases to hospitals. In 2007 when the program was launched, only 14% of cases were correctly diagnosed and treated by LCTs. After their training, the average of correct diagnosis and treatment increased to 72%!

Training programs in all three target countries have been strategically complemented by public awareness campaigns, educating individuals about symptom recognition and treatment-seeking behavior through media messaging and community meetings.

Chevron

Conducting business in countries with endemic malaria makes malaria prevention inseparable from employee wellness. Chevron is Angola’s largest foreign oil industry employer, as of 2011 employing more than 3,100 Angolans among its workers. In Nigeria, Chevron is the third-largest oil producer with, as of 2011, 3,100 employees and another 3,500 workers under contract – the majority of both are Nigerians. Chevron’s on-site clinic technicians are teaching employees about the ABCs of malaria prevention through the ABCD Campaign (Awareness, Bite Prevention, Chemo Prophylaxis, and Diagnosis).

In addition to employee wellness training, these on-site technicians provide care for both employees and their families, and frequently volunteer to support local government hosted education events. When considering how to do business and best invest in their community, Chevron opted for the employee wellness approach because it was sustainable over the long-term and they needed a malaria prevention solution that tied in with the company’s HIV, AIDS and TB wellness programs.

The programs have proven very effective with over 3,700 malaria cases reported in Angola’s workforce and their dependents in 2004 and only 1100 reported in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011. Employees are often taking the knowledge gained about malaria prevention from Chevron’s employee wellness programs back to their communities, multiplying the malaria prevention impact.

GlaxoSmithKline

As one of the world’s largest vaccine producers, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), has long demonstrated a commitment to preventing disease by providing vaccines around the world, including developing countries.  GSK believes that vaccines are the simplest and most cost-effective way to save lives.  Over the past 30 years, GSK has invested more than $300 million and the expertise of dedicated researchers in the quest for a malaria vaccine

2011 was a landmark year in that search as GSK and its partner the PATHMalaria Vaccine Institute (MVI), together with prominent African research institutes announced the first results from the Phase 3 trial for the vaccine candidate.   Phase 3 is one of the last stages in the process for development vaccines and medicines, before they are submitted to regulators for approval.  The vaccine candidate is intended for the youngest children in sub-Saharan Africa, those most likely to die from malaria if infected.  It is being been tested in more than 15,000 children across sub-Saharan Africa. Last fall, the first results from the trial were published in the New England Journal of Medicine stating that GSK’s malaria vaccine candidate, RTS, S, could potentially reduce the risk of malaria for African children ages 5-17 months by almost half for a one year period after vaccination.

This result is cause to celebrate and is an important milestone in the long and challenging fight against malaria.  Work has already begun on a second generation vaccine. GSK’s CEO, Sir Andrew Witty, has already made it very clear that the vaccine candidate is for the developing world and will be made accessible. The company has committed to setting the price that covers the cost of the vaccine and generates a small, 5% return to be re-invested in research for malaria or other diseases of the developing world.

IBM

IBM is leveraging the power of its World Community Grid in the fight against malaria. The World Community Grid is a network of over 2 million PCs from around the world, whose users have donated their idle PC time. This time is used to help advance different research projects, like malaria prevention, that benefit humanity.

Part of the reason that malaria has been such a resilient disease is the malaria causing parasite’s ability to mutate, creating strands of the disease that are immune to various treatments. The scientists at The Scripps Research Institute, are leveraging IBM’s World Community Grid to reduce the amount of time it would take scientists to run computations evaluating millions of compounds against molecular drug targets of the malaria parasite. Priority is being given to targets and candidate compounds with potential to attack the “superbug” strains of malaria, or those that are multi-drug-resistant.

The World Community Grid is so powerful it can reduce what might have taken scientists 100 years to complete down to one year.

Innovative Solutions to the Complex Fight Continue

While this is a mere snapshot of the global effort to fight malaria, it illustrates both the complexity of malaria and the innovative ways business in engaging in the fight. 2015 is the target year identified for accomplishing the Millennium Development Goals.  We still have much to do, but advancing malaria prevention has significant impact in improving maternal and child health, halting the spread of malaria and reducing poverty through improved productivity – moving the needle on half of the MDGs.

An investment in malaria prevention is an investment in life and a better world for all of us.