Firstly, what does Roll Back Malaria do?
Roll Back Malaria is a global framework to implement coordinated action against malaria and brings together many different types of partners – including foundations, NGOs, bilateral and multilateral development agencies, academic institutions and the private sector. We work to facilitate communication and achieve consensus amongst our partners so we can speak with one voice and ensure that countries focus on exactly what needs to be done. We also provide technical support to countries and guide them in scaling up their interventions.
Tell us why the organisation was set up back in 1998?
RBM started as a social movement in response to Africa’s biggest health challenge: malaria. In the 1960s there was a global malaria eradication program but after a few decades this stopped. So, despite being the biggest health issue in Africa – with Africa bearing 81% of the cases globally and 90% of the deaths – it became a neglected disease. In response to this, the director general of the WHO decided to start RBM in 1998. It then evolved and became a partnership of the WHO, Unicef,World Bank and the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme). From these four founding partners we have grown very fast to become a public private partnership of more than 500 partners.
What is your vision for RBM?
Our ultimate vision is a world free of malaria. In the short term, we hope that the malaria-specific Millenium Development Goals are achieved by 2015 and that the number of cases is reduced by 75%. We hope to do this by ensuring that all people in need are able to access the current malaria control interventions related to prevention, diagnostics and treatment. As we are less than 950 days away from the MDGs deadline in December 2015 this is our most pressing task.
My personal vision is that we secure the necessary level of funding as this is undoubtedly the biggest barrier to achieving our goals. While we saw the level of funding increase from $100m (£65.8m) in 2000 to $1.9bn in 2011, funding has now started to decrease. To fully control malaria we need about $5.1bn, yet today we hardly manage to secure half of this. I think that $5.1bn is not too much for a disease that causes 219m cases per year and 660 000 deaths.
Since RBM began how much progress has been made in tackling malaria?
A tremendous effort has been made and there have been some key moments of progress in the global movement since we started out in 1998. The malaria burden has been decreased by 33% in the Africa region and by 25% worldwide. In the African context, we now have theAfrican Leaders on Malaria Alliance, which was set up in 2001. The UN has made some important strides by appointing a UN special envoy for malaria in 2008 and by releasing an annual report on malaria. Of course the issue is not only Africa’s problem, and so last year in Sydney they held the Malaria 2012: Saving lives in the Asia Pacific conference which has produced the newly created Asia-Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance. All these things have helped to keep malaria high on the international agenda.
There have also been some key technological advances such as moving from insecticide-treated bed nets to the longer lasting insecticide nets, and the development of rapid diagnostic tests. We are also focusing on product development, because besides a shortage of funding, the development of resistance is the biggest challenge for tackling malaria. Product development partnerships are investing in the development of new products and interventions such as Medicine for Malaria Ventureand the Innovative Vector Control Consortium.
You have held a number of high-level positions in public health. Where did your interest come from and what lessons have you brought to your role as executive director of RBM?
My passion for development began when I became interested in public health while at university. After a few years in clinics I moved to health development projects in Mali, leading one of the biggest sector-wide projects dealing with health, population and water. I then moved to the World Bank to work as a health specialist. I was then appointed minister for health in Mali and then served as minister of social affairs, solidarity and the elderly. After I left the cabinet in Mali I was appointed as the first executive secretary of RBM but I subsequently served as WHO representative to the Congo and Ethiopia. So when I came back to serve as director of RBM, I brought a much wider understanding of what was needed in the health field.
It is important to be able to differentiate between the global perspective and what is required at a country level. My background has really helped me to do this as it gave me a better understanding of global health diplomacy but also the sensibility of how to work with a country and how to make things happen at country level.
What makes a good development leader?
Passion is absolutely critical because you have to care about people if you want to be a good development leader. Also, if you are a development leader working in a specific context you need to be constantly learning about what is happening in a sector so you can convince people based on evidence. For me it is also very important that as a leader you ensure that people themselves have access to the right information.
Who has inspired you in development?
I have been really inspired by Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela. Any time that I am really studying the world I try to think of their spirit and really how they have handled their different situations. They have key lessons for people working in development, such as being humble and caring for your people.
What is the future of development?
I think that while the world is becoming richer in wealth and resources we still have a world that is not equitable. It is important that we ensure we have a rights-based approach in development. We must also ensure the wealthy part of the world is investing in the developing world in such a way that people will continue to stay and develop their home countries. The world needs to become a better place for all and not for only a few.