In October 2006 Ray Chambers invited me to develop a Dutch initiative as part of a wider campaign started in the USA to prevent and treat malaria. He told me that 350 to 500 million cases of malaria occur annually and that at least a million people die from malaria worldwide each year, most of them children under five years of age in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet, he said, malaria is both treatable and preventable by means of effective interventions currently available.
These include long-lasting impregnated bed nets and anti-malarial drugs such as Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs)—that is, drugs based on an extract from the Chinese herb, ‘Artemisia annua (sweet wormwood). A big campaign, under the banner “Malaria no More”, was being set up in the US and network partners were being sought in other countries to join the initiative. Would I like to be involved? I took some time to think it over. On the one hand, having just entered my 60s, I felt a strong desire to take more of a back seat and to simply focus on my existing Foundations and their charitable activities. On the other hand, I felt a strong pull to become involved, since I had myself miraculously survived a very severe form of malaria—malaria tropica—ten years previously. I was also motivated by my experiences with the Red Cross nearly twenty-five years ago, where I had seen at first hand how our campaign promoting oral re-hydration therapy salts had significantly reduced child mortality due to dehydration from diarrhea. I felt it would be marvelous if the incidence of malaria could also be reduced by means of simple interventions.
I felt that since I had been given my life back from malaria, I must help prevent others suffering and dying from this disease and help stop its spread. ‘So I researched the topic a bit further and explored the possibility of mobilizing a team that would be capable and committed to establish the campaign in the Netherlands. After careful consideration, I decided to say “yes” to my American friend and set about establishing the Dutch foundation “Malaria no More!” The US campaign had decided to focus on the provision of bed nets, alongside education and monitoring, soliciting $10 donations per bed net with the concept that each gift of a bed net could save a life.’
‘For the Dutch campaign, we decided to work closely with existing Dutch organizations that were already involved in implementing health initiatives at a grassroots level in Africa, such as the Netherlands Red Cross. A key characteristic of our approach is building bridges of trust through an attitude of true respect and patience, and the creation together of sustainable and effective methods for dealing with malaria in the context of primary health care in the most affected African countries.
As part of my commitment to the campaign, I attended the White House Summit on Malaria in Washington, in mid-December 2006. Ray had mobilized support for this initiative from influential circles. This initiative was launched by President George Bush and First Lady, Laura Bush, and it brought together 250 political and charity leaders, medical scientists and supporters from around the world to discuss new opportunities for combating malaria and to kick-start the combined public-private initiatives supporting the campaign.
Those present included: the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice; many African representatives, such as the Nigerian Minister of Health Dr Eyitayo Lambo and the Principal Secretary, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in Zanzibar, Dr Mohamed Saleh Jiddawi and many others57. This event helped to raise the profile of malaria on the global agenda and in the year since, more funding has become available and many more people have been mobilized to support the anti-malaria projects.’
Dancing to the Music
As part of the Summit, we were entertained by some really good African musicians and singers, including Yvonne Chaka Chaka. While she was singing, an elderly lady, seated next to me, stood up and started dancing in the aisle to the music. I thought this was a wonderful response to the African music, so I got up and joined her but was surprised when no-one else followed suit. We danced to the end of the song and then sat down. Immediately after the song ended President George Bush walked on stage and addressed the audience, launching the initiative. Later someone came up to me and said, “That took some guts to dance in front of all those people and keep the President waiting!” I had no idea that was what we had done!
Starting the Dutch Campaign
In April 2007, on World Malaria Day, we officially launched the Dutch foundation, Malaria no More! (Netherlands) in the Hague in alliance with the following Dutch organizations: the Netherlands Red Cross (NRK), UNICEF (Netherlands), Médécins Sans Frontieres (Netherlands) (AzG), AMREF Flying Doctors (Netherlands), the Royal Tropical Institute (KIT), CORDAID Memisa, and “Drive Against Malaria”. I feel privileged to be involved in this campaign and am delighted to work with a really committed Dutch team and a wonderful group of people on the Advisory Board, including Ruud Lubbers (Prime Minister of The Netherlands, 1982-1994), Jane Goodall, and the 1992 Nobel Peace Laureate, Rigoberta Menchú Turn. Together, with grassroots support and involvement, we hope to do a lot to help stop the spread of malaria and to prevent death and morbidity due to this disease.
You can find out more on malarianomore.org.