\nBy pairing sophisticated on-the-ground operations with savvy marketing, Malaria No More is making a dent in Africa's malaria epidemic.\n
On June 20, 2009,15,000 people waited in a soccer stadium in Dakar, Senegal for the Senegalese singing sensation Youssou N’dour to take the stage. N’dour was there to perform his new song, “Xeex Sibbiru.” The song—whose title translates “Fight Malaria” in Wolof—was to be the new anthem for a nationwide fight against the disease that has decimated the country. It might seem an unlikely hit, given the seriousness of the subject, but that’s precisely the point. Malaria, which is spread by mosquitoes, remains a devastating disease; worldwide, 3,000 people die of malaria every day. “That is a tsunami every month,” says Martin Edlund, the Senegal country director for the organization Malaria No More. “This is a 9/11 every day.” And yet, malaria is entirely preventable. Surprisingly simple and inexpensive interventions, such as sleeping underneath a bed net that keeps the mosquitoes out, can drastically reduce infection rates.
Of course, for bed nets to work, they have to be used. That’s where “Xeex Sibbiru”—which encourages listeners to take action against malaria—comes in. The force behind this health-themed hit is MNM. The nonprofit, founded in 2006, is dedicated to ending malaria deaths across the world, and the concert exemplifies its approach. Founded by businessmen, MNM is bringing lessons from the private sector to the public health world, trying to figure out how best to leverage resources—bed nets, bug spray, medication—that have already proven effective against the disease. “It’s one of those rare diseases that is 100 percent preventable,” says Jeff Smith, MNM’s chief marketing officer.
Globally, malaria represents a staggering burden. More than 3 billion people—half the world’s population—are at risk of developing malaria, and the disease kills a child every 40 seconds. The toll is particularly devastating in Africa, where the disease costs the continent $12 billion a year. These numbers have made malaria a major priority on the global health agenda. One of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals, set in 2000, is to stop the spread of malaria by 2015. The world public health community has pledged to end malaria deaths in Africa by that year.
To combat a problem this big, MNM takes a multi-pronged approach. The group’s efforts include pragmatic, on-the-ground work, including developing new models for distributing bed nets and helping to run workshops in which African nations learn from each other about the most effective ways to get nets into their citizens’ homes. The organization also fights the disease at the highest levels, working with national and world leaders to influence policy. It helped run a White House summit on malaria and founded the Malaria Policy Center in Washington, D.C. The center aims to set the national agenda on malaria, briefing policymakers on the malaria crisis and encouraging the United States and other wealthy nations to take an even more active role in eliminating the disease.