Among the challenges facing Ghanaian public health officials in the battle against malaria is the cost, and logistics, of getting malaria medication to a majority of the population. Ghanaians who have a difficult time affording medications typically have them provided at little to no cost by the national health insurance structure, provided they live in or near a public health facility. Most Ghanaians do not. That leaves a significant portion of the population seeking out alternative therapies with no proven record of success or trying to access effective medication through the black market.
To address this challenge The Global Fund has launched a pilot program that brings together the private and public sectors and is designed to bridge these gaps in cost and delivery. In Ghana 60% of the population does not have access to medications via the public sector, but by negotiating cost with the private sector, Global Fund grant recipients have been able to bring the cost down in the public sector to a level comparable with the public.
In Kumasi, for example, pharmacist Opoku Mensah Bandoh estimates that of the 700 daily walk-ins to his pharmacy, at least half are there for malaria medication. And while he now charges less than he used to for those medications, he isn’t losing money. What the pharmacy has lost in profit margin it has made up in an expanded marketplace.
While it is too soon to judge the ultimate success of the initiative, early indicators are that it’s gone a long way in improving public health outcomes. Malaria deaths are down across the board, but there’s still reason to worry.
International funds for malaria control reached $1.7 billion in 2010 and $ 2 billion in 2011, but remained significantly below the $5-6 billion that would be needed annually to achieve global malaria targets. According to projections in the report, despite increased support from the United Kingdom, malaria funding will slightly decrease in 2012 and 2013, and will likely drop further to an annual $1.5 billion by 2015.
That’s funding that would go to keep this kind of pilot project alive as well as expand it across Africa and other malaria-riddled areas. Malaria is a disease that can be conquered, presuming the will remains to stick with the fight. It would be a tragedy if progress in this area started to slide due to a lack of funding, yet if nothing changes that could very well be the case.
Photo © The Global Fund / Nana Kofi Acquah