Malawi’s former President Professor Arthur Peter Mutharika has allegedly refused to append his signature on United Kingdom Government’s decision to stop health funding on Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) to the Southeast landlocked African nation and a former British colony and about a two-dozen other African states.
Mutharika, who is President of the deposed Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) has joined 32 other Former African Heads of State and Government, operating under the banner, African Forum, in strong opposition to challenge UK Government’s decision to withdraw £150 million (approximately K150 billion) in funding to tackle these diseases – funding that would have delivered over 250 million treatments this year alone.
“We would like the UK to rescind its punitive decision and continue supporting African countries on heath funding, particularly the Neglected Tropical Diseases which affects a lot of people,” said Mutharika.
According to the former African leaders, the UK’s decision effectively abandons over 200 million of Africa’s poorest and most vulnerable people that it promised to support. Out of the 26 countries affected by these aid cuts, 24 are in Africa including Malawi.
The African Forum membership, therefore, appeal for international solidarity in response to the UK’s withdrawal of neglected tropical disease funding.
Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) like blinding trachoma and intestinal worms are preventable and treatable, yet they still affect 1.7 billion people around the world. By preventing children from going to school and adults from being able to work, NTDs trap individuals and whole communities in cycles of extreme poverty.
The cuts will mean exiting from supporting interventions against visceral leishmaniasis – a fatal disease which causes swelling of the spleen and liver, 50% of the global burden of which is in East Africa – loss of funding to tackle diseases like Guinea worm, blinding trachoma and elephantiasis could cause unnecessary setbacks for the poorest communities in Africa.
In a statement, the African Forum of former heads of state have, therefore, called upon the “international community and humanitarian assistance agencies to mobilise the requisite aid resources in an attempt to avoid further loss of life.”
“As African countries continue to manage the pandemic, it is essential that national governments can continue work with partners such as the UK to protect and support vulnerable people on the continent,” reads the statement in part.
The Africa Forum says it is prepared to work collaboratively “to mobilise support, particularly regarding to access to medical care and supplies, infrastructure, and quality health education as well as food and nutrition for those living in Africa.”
“The Africa Forum feels strongly that such a ferocious calamity should be evaded through the collective efforts at national, sub-regional and continental levels including necessary technical and expert support in the form of early warning by those who have the capacity to do so.
“We commend the determination by the African governments and institutions within the framework of the AU to cautiously minimize the health impact, as well as the social disruption and economic consequences of the pandemics and diseases,” further reads the statement.
The former heads of state and government hinted that it is significant to note the partnerships that the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) forged with UNDP and other local and international communities in response to the COVID-19 pandemic including public awareness of the pandemic and importance of whole-of-society partnerships in curbing and recovering from the pandemic.
The Forum, in the statement expresses its great satisfaction of the efforts deployed by the Uniting to Combat Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs), which is a global partnership working to raise the visibility of NTDs -diseases that affect over 1.7 billion people on our planet, 600 million of whom in Africa.
“The Africa Forum feels strongly that Africa should rise to meet such situations of need and put together mechanisms that will provide rapid assistance and support when such unforeseeable circumstances and situations arise,” adds read the statement.
The African Forum of former heads of state and governments pledges that they will continue to work towards preventing or transforming conflicts in Africa because they are, alongside climatic adversities, responsible for the inequitable access to health care resources and creation of famine situations, not only in the conflict affected countries, but also in the neighbouring countries which receive large numbers of refugees.
Malawi, a landlocked country in south-eastern Africa, is endemic for onchocerciasis, schistosomiasis, STH and trachoma. The Ministry of Health implements a Master Plan for NTD control through the NTD programme, while disease-specific control programmes are active in implementing interventions and surveillance. Malawi has made strong progress in LF elimination and has been in the post-MDA surveillance phase since 2013.
Located in Southern Africa, Malawi is landlocked, sharing its borders with Mozambique, Zambia and Tanzania. The country has an estimated population of 18.6 million (2019), which is expected to double by 2038.
Malawi remains one of the poorest countries in the world despite making significant economic and structural reforms to sustain economic growth. The economy is heavily dependent on agriculture, employing nearly 80% of the population, and it is vulnerable to external shocks, particularly climatic shocks.
The Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (MGDS), a series of five-year plans, guides the country’s development. The current MGDS III, building a Productive, Competitive and Resilient Nation, will run through 2022 and focuses on education, energy, agriculture, health and tourism.
In January 2021, the Government launched the Malawi 2063 Vision that aims at transforming Malawi into a wealthy and self-reliant industrialized ‘upper middle- income country.