Malaria is a completely preventable and treatable disease that kills almost 800 000 adults and children worldwide, 90% of them in Africa ‘ where it accounts for almost 20% of all child deaths.
According to the World Health Organisation’s Roll Back Malaria (RBM) programme Malaria is costing Africa U$12-billion annually in lost productivity.
Steve Knowles, Director for Malaria Control at AngloGold Ashanti presented details on their flagship programme at one of their mines in Obuasi, Ghana were their intervention reduced the burden of malaria in the entire community, increased school attendance, reduced absenteeism at the mine, increased productivity and reduced the cost of malaria treatment.
‘There was no doubt that malaria was the biggest threat to us as a company,’ said Knowles, who has been spearheading the programme’s expansion to their mines in Ghana, Mali, Guinea and Tanzania as well as other industries and mines in these countries.
In 2005 the Obuasi Mine Hospital was seeing a staggering average of 6 800 malaria patients per month, of a workforce of 8 000.
Of these 2 500 were mine employees with an average of three days off per patient which equates to 7 500 man shifts lost per month.
‘This coupled with a slow work rate during recuperation, resulted in a major loss of production,’ said Knowles. The cost of medication for treatment was in excess of U$55 500 per month.
The Obuasi Malaria Control Programme essentially consisted of killing the mosquitoes through indoor residual spraying, preventing the mosquitoes from biting with nets, screening and repellants, controlling breeding via environmental management and anti-malarial drugs.
The combined interventions has led to an average decline of over 5 800 cases per month (75%) since 2005. School attendance has increased by 70% and according to Knowles the infant mortality in now zero.
The average monthly cost of treatment has also declined from U$55 000 to just over U$6 000 and the lost man-days due to malaria has been reduced from almost 7 000 per month to just over 160.
The Programme has now teamed up with the Ghana government which was recently awarded U$133-million over five years by the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The money has been earmarked to scale up the ‘Obuasi Model’ to 40 districts.
Knowles said they were assisted by the ‘very robust health system and infrastructure’ in Ghana as well as the country’s health insurance scheme.
‘There were nurses and clinics and most of our professional training was really targeted at the laboratory personnel, training them in the diagnosis of the disease,’ he said.
He said the picture was very different in Guinea and Mali.
‘The brain drain in West Africa is horrendous,’ she said.
Knowles said the insecticides they used were ‘100% safe’ although they did not use DDT as the mosquitoes in Obuasi were resistant to it.
‘There are no side-effects whatsoever and I would be quite happy to have my children live in any of the houses we spray,’ he said.
Knowles grinned: ‘I remember a time when you could not sit outside in Obuasi without having hundreds of mozzies zooming around your head. There are now no mozzies in Obuasi.’