Mining with principles can help end malaria in our lifetime

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This blog, written by ICMM Manager for Health and Safety Mark Holmes, has been published on World Malaria Day 2021 to look at why Malaria is such a critical issue, the impact of COVID-19 on progress, and the steps our members are taking to address this critical challenge.

Malaria is an infectious disease that threatens the lives of billions of people around the world. Despite being preventable and treatable, every year the disease accounts for hundreds of thousands of deaths, and millions of infections — with pregnant women and children under five years of age being especially vulnerable.

The malaria parasite is primarily transmitted through the bite of an infected (female Anopheles) mosquito. Symptoms include fever, headache, vomiting and other flu-like symptoms. If suitable drugs are not administered quickly the infection can result in life-threatening anaemia, coma and death.

Since 2000 the number of malaria cases has dropped by over 70 per cent. This drop has not been by accident. It’s been the result of committed work by the governments of malaria endemic countries and their international partners to implement effective vector control and elimination programmes.

Despite this unprecedented period of success, progress has stalled, and almost half the world’s population remain at risk. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2019, there were an estimated 229 million cases of malaria worldwide.

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has also led to the postponement of malaria control programmes, as funds are being redirected to deal with suppressing the virus. This will have serious repercussions. Significant gains in malaria alleviation can be wiped out during a single transmission season, and failures to maintain effective control can result in a resurgence of the disease. To ensure the progress we have made in combatting malaria isn’t in vain, it’s critical we tackle the two issues together. This can be done by increasing investments in the common tools needed to combat these illnesses, such as health workers and critical hospital infrastructure.

A global partnership

The elimination of malaria is a global goal, supported by governments, and civil society. In fact, tackling it sits within the third of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, which calls for an end to the ‘epidemics of AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria and neglected tropical diseases’. In working towards these goals there is recognition that no one party can achieve the SDGs in isolation. This means that the private sector, and in this case the mining industry, must play a significant role in supporting governments, and civil society in meeting the each of the SDGs.

Operating in many countries with high levels of malaria, the mining and metals industry is well placed to support global efforts to eradicate malaria. Through our Mining Principles our members are committed to working with communities to support their development and to implement practices aimed at continually improving health practices both in the community and the workplace. These practices typically start out as being “inside the fence” initiatives that target employees. However, once developed and tested, these programmes often extend to “outside the fence” to include local employee family members, as well as the communities they are from. When matched with accurate measurement of workforce communicable disease, this can help those responsible for company health, safety and loss prevention to design more effective preventive and curative interventions for employees as well as the broader community. Just some member examples of this include:

AngloGold Ashanti – In 2005, the company started an ambitious plan to eliminate malaria in the Obuasi community close to their operations in Ghana. AGA undertook a detailed census of the community that informed a programme of indoor residual spraying (IRS), which involves spraying the internal surfaces of houses to kill adult mosquitoes; an action that lowers malaria incidence by reducing the life span of the mosquito, the mosquito population and human/mosquito contact. AGA also initiated a mass rollout of bed nets to all homes and led a comprehensive education and awareness campaign.

Throughout the programmes 15-year lifespan the company has fostered a close working relationship with the community which has been central to its success. Malaria rates in the region are now down by 90%, with more than a million people now protected from the disease. In addition, work and school absenteeism are down a similar amount and more than 1300 seasonal community jobs have been created. This programme is widely recognised as one as the best in the world and AGA are working closely with the Global Fund to extending it to 16 districts in Ghana.

South32 – In the regions of Matola and Maputo City in Mozambique close to South32’s Mozal operations, there was a high rate of malaria infections amongst the community. Recognising this, the Mozal team worked with the community through a number of initiatives to help reduce the risk of infection amongst the community. This included establishing the Tchau Tchau Malaria NGO (in English, known as Goodbye Malaria) which provides education to communities on malaria controls and a programme of spraying.

A laboratory testing facility in collaboration with the Department of Health has also been set up at the Mozal Clinic in an effort to detect those who have been infected with the disease. This allows for a coordinated referral for treatment at the local health care facilities. The combined effort has resulted a reduction of malaria cases detected with all persons working at Mozal sites and local communities.

Despite the impact of COVID-19, both South32 and AngloGold Ashanti are continuing to focus on the eradication of malaria as a priority both at site and in the surrounding communities.

Mining with Principles

Unlike many other sectors, mining and metals operations have the extraordinary potential to contribute to the delivery of a great many SDGs including those relating to malaria. This is due to the multifaceted impacts (both positive and negative) that companies and operations can have on communities, ecosystems and economies.

Mining and metals operations are central to the development of mining communities and we must expect that these operations work with local communities to improve their wellbeing. If we are to collectively achieve the goals of a malaria-free world: business, government, civil-society, and local communities must work to together to develop and implement plans that meet the unique health needs of each individual in the community. Mining with Principles means looking beyond the success of a company’s operations to achieving real and sustainable progress for people and the planet.