Comic Relief and GSK form five-year partnership to fight malaria and strengthen health systems

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The FINANCIAL — A five-year partnership to fight malaria and improve health in five countries worst affected by the disease has today been launched by Comic Relief and GSK. The two organisations are teaming up in support of global efforts to strengthen health systems’ capabilities to fight malaria – a disease which still claims almost half a million lives every year, mostly in children under five in sub-Saharan Africa.

John Bishop, Comic Relief Honorary Trustee, Dr David Brandling-Bennett, Senior Malaria Adviser at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Maurine Murenga, from the Global Fund Advocates Network, Prof David Schellenberg of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Baroness Verma, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for International Development, joined Comic Relief and GSK to discuss the current malaria challenge and launch the partnership at the Science Museum.

A new fund – created through a £17m donation from GSK and £5m from Comic Relief – will provide targeted grants over the next five years to organisations on the frontline, tackling malaria and improving health in five malaria endemic countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. These grants, made and managed by Comic Relief, will complement current malaria programmes and help build sustainable ways to ensure people can access diagnosis and prevention at the right time and in the right place.

The partnership aims to support the World Health Organization’s target to cut malaria case incidence and mortality rates by 90% over the next 15 years1 and the Roll Back Malaria partnership’s goal of a malaria-free world. The WHO strategy focuses on bolstering global and national programmes to control malaria and increase access to diagnosis, prevention and treatment. Significant progress has been made since 2000 – as the WHO World Malaria Report 2015, published last week, illustrated.2 Deaths have more than halved through increased use of bed nets, scale-up of diagnostic testing and better access to medicines. But the disease continues to take a heavy human and economic toll, straining already fragile health systems. In 2015 alone, there were an estimated 214 million new malaria cases and 438,000 deaths – 90% of which were in Africa, according to GSK.

Speaking at the partnership launch, Kevin Cahill, Chief Executive at Comic Relief said, “Comic Relief has a long history of working with partners to help change lives both here in the UK and in some of the world’s poorest communities. This partnership with GSK is built on a joint desire to make a real and lasting difference to the health of people across Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

“The tragedy of malaria is that it is a disease that is both preventable and curable but still kills nearly half a million people every year. Comic Relief has been committed to raising awareness of its devastation and funding grants to help combat it for many years. We are excited to continue our work to help eliminate this terrible disease alongside our new partner GSK.”

Ramil Burden, Vice-President for Africa and Developing Countries at GSK, said: “We are hugely excited to step up our fight against malaria in collaboration with Comic Relief. As a healthcare company, GSK has long been involved in battling this disease but we know more needs to be done; we are delighted to partner with Comic Relief, who bring a deep understanding of supporting communities to improve health and prospects. Our partnership will support global efforts aimed at trying to reduce the burden of malaria by 90% by 2030. Not only will this help unlock human and economic potential, but it will also provide a springboard for managing other current and future health challenges.”

Grants will be made by Comic Relief through their standard independent grant making process and will be guided by a London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) study. The study, which started earlier this year, is scoping out how the partnership can best complement and enhance access to healthcare provision and current malaria interventions in endemic countries.

Initial findings from LSHTM recommend that consideration should be given to focusing investments in organisations that are taking steps to support frontline health workers; improve data gathering to help track the impact of malaria; support community prevention; and create demand for diagnostic tests and appropriate use of anti-malarial medicines.

Based on the scoping study, which looked at factors such as the burden of malaria, the partnership will make investments in Ghana, Mozambique, Sierra Leone, Tanzania and the Greater Mekong region. Full results from the scoping study will be available in early 2016 and first decisions on grant-making taken later in the year.

The new partnership builds on Comic Relief and GSK’s longstanding commitment to tackling malaria. GSK’s legacy of fighting malaria stretches back more than a century, beginning with Sir Henry Wellcome pioneering organised research of tropical diseases. GSK continues to lead innovation against malaria and takes a holistic approach to tackling the disease. This includes researching medicines and vaccines; supporting community prevention and health worker training; and supplying anti-malarial medicines.

Comic Relief already focuses its grants on supporting a range of interventions designed to strengthen health systems. The charity has used its annual national fundraising campaigns, Red Nose Day and Sport Relief, as a platform to raise awareness of the devastating impact that malaria has on families and communities across the world’s poorest communities.


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