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Use lessons from anti-malaria campaign to beat deadly virus

Updated: Jun 23, 2020

By Melvyn Pun & Win Win Tint

This article first appeared in Myanmar Times on 23 April 2020

COVID-19 has caused tragic loss of lives around the globe. The speed and scale at which the pandemic spread caught many by surprise, challenging the capacity of healthcare systems to respond.

Myanmar children mug for the camera. World Malaria Day on Saturday is a time to reflect on what we can learn from the anti-malaria drive to beat COVID-19. Photo: Stock image

The coronavirus has impacted our daily lives in unprecedented ways, affecting transportation, education, and the economy. As communities come together to beat COVID-19, it is clear that an effective strategy requires the combined efforts of many, including governments, civil society groups, and the private sector. It will require action from each of us to conquer the disease. Fortunately, there is an existing model that we can use: the fight against malaria in Myanmar. We are winning that battle, and we are doing so in partnership across all sectors of society. Since 2010, malaria cases and death rates have dropped by an astonishing 80 percent and 97pc respectively. If there was ever a model to replicate, then this is it.  Our government has spearheaded the fight against malaria. In 2014, Myanmar made a commitment to end malaria by 2030. Reflecting the fact that malaria is not only an issue for the Ministry of Health and Sports, it established a Malaria Elimination Taskforce spanning all government agencies.   As COVID-19 does not respect borders, neither does malaria. Myanmar is working closely with our neighbours to root out malaria, not only in our own country but across the region. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is giving financial support to our fight, the World Health Organization is offering technical expertise, and civil society groups are mobilising to deliver services in our communities.  The private sector has now actively joined the fight. In 2018, Yoma Strategic Holdings and City Mart Holdings joined forces to launch M2030 in Myanmar. We are committed to using our reach to both raise awareness and funds to end malaria in our country.  April 25 is World Malaria Day. Let’s use this day to reflect on what we can learn from malaria to beat COVID-19. First, we need to work cooperatively across borders and share information and resources the way we have done in our fight against malaria. Our world is interconnected, so what happens in one part of the world will have ripple effects in other countries. Second, we need to cooperate across all sectors of government and society. The Myanmar government has moved quickly to set up an inter-ministerial taskforce to direct the coronavirus response. Now it’s up to all of us, as citizens of Myanmar, to do our part. We must follow physical distancing guidelines and take care of our elderly and vulnerable people. As business leaders, we must protect our employees and customers by creating a safe working and retail environment. Both Yoma Strategic Holdings and City Holdings have donated medical supplies to the Ministry of Health and Sports to support the COVID-19 response.  Third, we need to use available resources wisely. We are not a rich nation, but we have resilience, stamina and ingenuity. The investments that have been made in our health system to fight malaria and other communicable diseases can be used to support the coronavirus response. These investments have strengthened health systems, supply chains, human resource capacity, and community systems, forming a powerful network and defence against the disease. Lastly we call on the business community to use their strengths and resources to help, whether through donations or smart policies to protect employees and customers. As businesses leaders, we can do a lot to support the communities we serve. The pandemic is a tremendous challenge for us all, and the only way we can overcome this challenge is by working together. However, while we are busy fighting this pandemic, let’s not lose sight of other health priorities, including the goal to end malaria. Melvyn Pun is CEO and executive director of Yoma Strategic Holdings, and Win Win Tint is group CEO of City Holdings. Both are members of the M2030 Champions Council.

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