Herbert Wigwe, Access Bank MD/CEO

•Targets 20 million women, children through Malaria-to- Zero initiative

By OBINNA EZUGWU

Through its annual track event, the Access Bank Lagos city Marathon, Nigeria’s largest commercial bank by assets, has put the country, particularly its commercial city, Lagos on the global map, in the league of New York, London and other cities that organise similar events. But in another Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) drive, the bank is dedicating funds and effort to tackle the number one killer of Nigerians, malaria.

Aware, therefore, that at the present rate, Nigeria will be unable to meet its malaria pre-elimination targets by end of the year, Access Bank, partnering Corporate Alliance on Malaria in Africa (CAMA), in commendable new CSR drive, is taking the bull by the horn in this regard with its recently launched Malaria-to-Zero Initiative, an innovative financing platform aimed at galvanizing private sector resources and capabilities for sustained support towards averting at least 1 million malaria cases and deaths this year.

Although it hardly gets as much sense of urgency as diseases such as HIV and Cancer, malaria has continued to account for most deaths in Nigeria.

The United States Embassy in Nigeria Malaria Fact Sheet notes that the disease caused by a plasmodium parasite and transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes, remains a major public health problem in the country and accounts for more cases and deaths than any other country in the world.

The Fact Sheet said the disease is a risk for 97 percent of Nigeria’s 180 million population. The remaining 3 percent being those who live in the malaria free highlands. It noted further that there are an estimated 100 million malaria cases with over 300,000 deaths per year in Nigeria. This compares with 215,000 deaths per year in Nigeria from HIV/AIDS.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the African region carries an excessively high share of the global malaria burden.

In 2018 alone, the region was home to 93 percent of malaria cases and 94 percent of malaria deaths, where Nigeria is the most affected country on earth, contributing about 25 per cent to the global malaria cases despite the fact that malaria, a disease caused by the plasmodium parasite is both preventable and curable.

In the report, children under-five years of age are the most exposed age group. Other vulnerable categories of people include infants, pregnant women and people who are immune-compromised. Total funding for malaria control and elimination reached an estimated $ 2.7 billion in 2018, with contributions from governments of endemic countries amounting to $ 900 million.

Despite huge financial commitments to its eradication and efforts charities such as Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in recent years, malaria has continued to top the chart of worst killers in the country.

The ‘Malaria-to-Zero’ initiative is envisioned to be a platform for pooling the resources and capabilities of the organised private sector to strategically build synergies to generate impact at scale, complementing the Nigerian government’s effort to achieve its malaria pre-elimination goals. The long-term goal of the initiative is a Malaria Free Nigeria by 2040.

The vision of the ‘Malaria-to-Zero’ initiative is to target the underlying causes of under performance and disrupt the low level equilibrium in malaria outcomes. It seeks to reach over 20 million women and children, and save the lives of at least one million women and children in Nigeria over four year

This, the Dr. Herbert Wigwe led financial institution notes is a first step towards complementing government’s effort in achieving its malaria pre-elimination goals for the year.

At its official launch on April 25, 2016 on the occasion of the World Malaria Day, the bank had noted that the aim of the initiative shall be achieved by organizing and tactfully leveraging on the resources, capabilities and the proven expertise of private sector organizations in its growing network, to address market failures impeding the malaria elimination programme in Nigeria, with support from the Private Sector Health Alliance of Nigeria (PHN) and HACEY Health Initiative (HACEY).

The programme, among other things, focuses in the areas of Communication and effective demand creation, Distribution of LLINs (Long Lasting Insecticidal Nets) in under-served communities, and stimulating in-country production of LLINs, Management of severe malaria, Seasonal malaria chemoprophylaxis (drugs to prevent malaria), Indoor residual spraying, Enhancing in-country research and development capacity for malaria pre-elimination

Since the launch of the initiative, the bank has rarely relented. In April 2018, in partnership with CAMA and other Corporate Society Organisations, it organised a Malaria forum in Lagos tagged “Accelerating Investment to Bring Malaria to Zero.”

The event brought together a group of business executives, corporate health managers, technical experts, government officials, programme implementers and global health community to discuss strategies to accelerate investment to bring malaria to Zero in Nigeria and Africa.

Since the commencement of the initiative, an estimated 1 million people have been reached, many for the first time in rural communities of Nigeria with testing and treatment, others with critical information to help prevent the occurrence of the disease. Through it, 357 community groups have been empowered and engaged with the technical capacity to roll out useful community interventions.

“The only way to end or at least reduce the prevalence of malaria is by organizing and strategically leveraging on the resources, capabilities and the proven expertise of the private sector organizations. This is what Access Bank has been championing with the Malaria-to-Zero initiative,” noted Omobolanle Victor-Laniyan, bank’s head of Sustainability.

The bank has followed through by supporting the network of technical and medical expertise gathered by the Private Sector Health Alliance to provide on the ground and reliable intervention programs.

Speaking on the achievements made by the programme, few days ago, the Access GMD/CEO, Wigwe restated the bank’s commitment to clamping down on the disease.

“The contributions we have made through Malaria-to-Zero Initiative is just our way of clamping down on malaria,” he said. “It is our responsibility as a people-focused organisation to throw our weight behind all efforts to see that Nigerians enjoy healthy lives in addition to owning wealth.”

So far, the specific results that the initiative have achieved include, over one million people reached with information, education and communication materials on malaria, 40 percent increase in demand for malaria commodities at primary health centers and Increased nets with 30,000 long-lasting insecticide-treated nets ( LLINs) distributed.