Michael Gerson: ‘It takes more than a village to fight malaria in Zambia’

With World Malaria Day just around the corner, it’s time to put the deadly disease back on your radar. Michael Gerson, senior adviser to ONE, wrote an excellent piece on the fight against malaria in Zambia in the Washington Post yesterday. He points out that defeating the disease requires joint effort from individuals, philanthropists, religious groups, governments and NGOs both on a local and international level.

Overcoming malaria isn’t easy. Gerson explains in his article:

“The logistics of distributing nets and spraying insecticides require martial scale and organization. Gains against other diseases come arithmetically, dose by dose. Gains against malaria come exponentially, as chunks of geography are secured.

But bed nets can’t simply be thrown off trucks. Their employment depends on human behavior. And behavior is influenced only by trusted institutions. So the Anglican Church in Zambia organizes volunteer malaria control agents, each charged with overseeing perhaps 15 households — making sure the nets are properly installed and not used for fishing and weddings. The success of a vast anti-malaria campaign ultimately depends on a group of compassionate, slightly nosey church ladies.

The whole effort is only sustainable if local governments take leadership and gradually assume greater burdens. Here, Zambia is fortunate. Its new president, Michael Sata, is a former health minister. Zambia’s first lady is a former OB-GYN. Zambia’s current health minister worked at the World Health Organization for 20 years. The government’s first budget increased health spending by 45 percent in a single year — a commitment permitted by sustained economic growth and the rising price of copper in Zambian mines.”

He also mentions that the United States has made a significant contribution in Zambia’s anti-malaria efforts:

“But much of the progress against malaria here has been made possible by the United States, particularly through the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) — which has provided millions of nets in Zambia, including those distributed by private groups in Mongu. It is an unexpected intervention for a superpower. China, for example, has taken a different approach in Zambia — providing foreign assistance in exchange for resource concessions. And China out-invests America in Zambia by more than 10-to-1. China’s influence is everywhere — and resolutely self-interested.

The American Embassy, in contrast, is mainly a health-care provider. Of the $400 million the United States spends each year on foreign assistance to Zambia, about $370 million goes to fighting AIDS and malaria.”

Read the rest of Michael Gerson’s article here.