Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Multinational Corporations and the Fight against Malaria in Africa

Academic journal article Journal of Pan African Studies

Multinational Corporations and the Fight against Malaria in Africa

Article excerpt


Each year there are an estimated 250 million malaria cases worldwide and 800,000 deaths related to the disease (World Health Organization, 2010). Prevention and control efforts to date have been led by governments, international partners and donors. But while effective methods to control and treat malaria exist, they are not always available to the nearly three billion people at risk of the disease. While many governments have demonstrated very high levels of commitment to fight the disease, most governments in endemic areas lack the resources needed to comprehensively deal with malaria, which is why international funds have been crucial to control efforts.

In recent years, more than 1.5 billion annually has been channeled to countries, mostly through the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the US President's Malaria Initiative and the World Bank. This sum, however, falls well short of the estimated 5-6 billion annually required to fight the disease. This gap in funding has prompted many interested parties to urge greater private-sector involvement, especially since malaria control efforts can have a positive economic impact for the community in general and the private sector in particular.

In recent decades, there has been a decided evolution in perspectives on the roles and responsibilities of business in society. The classic position was Milton Friedman's 1970 pronouncement that the only responsibility a business has is to return a profit to its shareholders (Milton, 1970). That view has largely been replaced by a more nuanced understanding of the ways in which businesses can enhance their competitiveness and economic returns by addressing the needs and challenges of the communities in which they operate. Corporate responsibility is no longer an oxymoron, as skeptics claim, but rather an emerging approach designed to create shared value for businesses and their shareholders--having positive social impact while also generating the return on investment expected by shareholders. There is still wide variation in corporate responsibility practices, from firms that see such activities as little more than a public relations strategy to improve their brand image to others that find meaningful opportunities to drive social change through their core businesses (Milton, 2011). At the same time, there has been growing interest and acceptance of the private sector in the broader global development agenda. Private-sector engagement was among the main issues addressed at the recent 4th High Level Forum for Aid Effectiveness in Busan, Korea. Lars Thunell, executive vice president and CEO of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), observed that, "This could be the turning point where we recognize the mutually supportive roles of the private and public sectors in promoting development" (Sung-Hee, 2011).

As these trends suggest, there is a convergence in perspectives between those who see business as a potential partner in improving the prospects for people living in low- and middle-income settings and those (primarily in the donor community) searching for new methods and new resources to address key unanswered questions about how to catalyze and sustain development gains in a world that faces growing constraints.

There are few policy areas in which these issues are more salient than in global health, or where there is more promise for meaningful private-sector contributions. Sometimes the challenges faced in global health seem intractable--ranging from the global epidemics of HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria; to the emerging epidemics of chronic non-communicable conditions, maternal mortality and childhood illnesses that still cause too many unavoidable deaths. But in recent years, there has been tremendous progress in marshaling the financial resources, relevant expertise, and necessary partnerships to improve global health outcomes, along with a major shift in norms, outlooks, and practices. …

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