Ending malaria in Africa will be the biggest contributor to gender equality, unlocking the UN’s SDGs

Chief Sustainability Officer

It’s over a year since the World Health Organisation declared the Covid-19 pandemic. Globally, more than three million people have died from the disease, millions of jobs have been lost, economies have been upturned and healthcare systems brought to breaking point.

As we start to come to terms with Covid-19 becoming endemic – a disease we will need to learn to live with, like influenza and the common cold – the wider impact of the disease is beginning to be quantified and examined. From the impact on women in society to long lasting effects on education, Covid-19 is not only a medical emergency.

Now imagine a killer disease, one that can strike at any time, one that is endemic, that disproportionately takes the lives of children, that results in thousands of lost pregnancies, that sees crop yields plummet, that sees education access for girls and young women fall, that entrenches poverty, that accounts for up to half of hospital visits. Now imagine, despite a century of global advances in medicine, technology, industrialisation and economic development, that it still had not been stopped.

This isn’t hypothetical, this is malaria – and its impact, particularly on women, is stark.

  • Every two minutes a child dies from malaria (that’s about the time it will take you to read this blog)
  • In Uganda alone, it is estimated malaria is the cause of 30-50% of outpatient hospital visits, nearly a fifth of hospital admissions, and a fifth of hospital deaths
  • Malaria could be responsible for more than 200,000 stillbirths a year in Africa.
  • According to UNDP, Women have less access to information about how to protect themselves from malaria than men, due to lower literacy rates. Women’s traditional household roles, such as cooking the evening meal outdoors or waking up before sunrise to prepare the household for the day, may also put them at greater risk of malaria infection.
  • The WHO has warned that Covid-19 may result in a 50% increase in malaria deaths as access to healthcare, medicines and essential services is interrupted.

End malaria, and the path to women’s equality becomes much clearer. End malaria and more girls will attend school and young women go on to further education. End malaria and farmers will have better crop yields and economic stability. End malaria and women will gain more economic independence and agency.

In this way malaria is deeply interconnected with gender equality and the wider sustainable development agenda and is an example of why all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) must be tackled together.

This is one of the reasons why, when we looked at what role dentsu international can play in contributing to the realisation of the SDGs, that we partnered with Malaria No More. Since 2017, we have supported the international charity in its campaign to end malaria in a generation. Our long-term partnership has helped raise $14.1 billion for the Global Fund to eradicate the disease.

And in February 2021 we launched our newest campaign to eradicate malaria, developed in partnership with Malaria No More. ‘Draw The Line Against Malaria’, mobilises Africa’s digital youth to lead the charge in ending malaria by 2030, and aims to shift global attention on to the killer disease in an age of Covid-19.

The campaign was created by Daniel Sytsma, our Chief Design Officer, and is a collaboration across dentsu agencies in Amsterdam, Cape Town, Copenhagen, Geneva, London, Nairobi and New York. It is rooted in African identities and led by African voices. It includes a pioneering brand film, directed by Nigerian filmmaker, Meji Alabi, and featuring top talent from across the continent.  The campaign also features an interactive digital art platform – from renowned Nigerian artist, Laolu Sebanjo – reinterpreting traditional African line art, a chatbot and an app. Together dentsu volunteers contributed over 10,000 volunteer hours into research, strategy, creative and media planning.

Powerful communication is a key pillar in ending malaria – particularly communication that engages both men and women. Understanding how malaria is spread, understanding preventative measures, understanding its terrible toll not just on health, but on so many other factors, is important. Understanding that the capacity to end malaria is in the hands of empowered individuals, is even more so. Malaria is not something that people should have to learn to live with, but that is the experience for so many, resigned to its terrible impacts.

This campaign will not end malaria on its own, but be in no doubt that it will contribute to its end. As an industry we have the ability to influence behaviour and attitudes. Just as the big challenges of this century will need political will and infrastructure innovation to overcome them, powerful communication will be at the heart of bringing the whole world on the journey of change.

‘Draw The Line Against Malaria’ aims to shift opinions, influence decisionmakers, raise awareness and give people in Africa the confidence and self-belief to take on this dreadful disease and end it in a generation. While the creative output of the campaign is bold and exciting, ultimately what matters is the long-term impact.

This week saw a continuation of this effort with the launch of a new animation that explores the story behind the Muundo – a universal language made up of lines, symbols, and patterns created by Laolu Senbanjo, a global artist from Nigeria. The animation will appeal to children and will show the different ways that malaria impact young people as well as the ways that is can be reduced and ultimately eliminated.

Ending malaria allows women to prosper, girls to stay in education and communities to thrive. Ending malaria, untangles the knots that bind so many of the global goals, and unlocks a future that is better for us all.

Together, we can draw the line against malaria – become a part of our global movement and add your line to the Muundo tapestry today.