Investing in the Future: Know What Works to Defeat Malaria
Authored by Tony Powell, MEASURE Evaluation PIMA Deputy Chief of Party
News from final clinical trials of a partially effective malaria vaccine that could help immunize millions of children against the disease have understandably grabbed many of World Malaria Day’s (WMD) headlines.
The study – conducted in 11 sites across Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania – suggests the vaccine could reduce malaria attacks by 30 percent. With approximately 1,300 children dying daily in sub-Saharan Africa from the parasite – roughly one child per minute – its potential for improving health outcomes among the young is clear.
However, the decades-long public health fight against malaria is multifaceted in nature. It includes, among other interventions, effective case management for the affected and preventive control measures – such as insecticide-treated nets, intermittent treatment of malaria in pregnant women and indoor residual spraying – for at-risk populations.
One of the most neglected components of the anti-malaria response is rigorous monitoring and evaluation (M&E). An M&E system refers to all the indicators, tools, and processes that need to be used and followed to measure if a program has been implemented according to the initial plan (monitoring) and determine if it is having the desired result (evaluation).
Without a cross-cutting, effective M&E system to support their implementation, malaria interventions can result in misplaced allocation of resources and uncertainty regarding the ultimate impact of programs. Without the quality data yielded from M&E, policy and programmatic decision-making may be reliant on anecdote rather than based on rigorous evidence.
In Kenya, the USAID-funded MEASURE Evaluation-PIMA (MEval-PIMA) project works with the Ministry of Health’s Malaria Control Unit (MCU) as part of its mandate to strengthen M&E capacity in four key areas: (i) capacity building in M&E; (ii) strengthening malaria surveillance systems, including epidemic preparedness and response (EPR); (iii) technical assistance for evaluations, and; (iv) overall technical assistance in the implementation of the county’s Malaria Monitoring and Evaluation Plan 2009–2017, which is aligned with the country’s national malaria strategy.
The MEval-PIMA project works to enhance both the individual and institutional capacity of the MCU to collect, analyze, and use data to make strategic decisions. Through capacity-building trainings and workshops on M&E fundamentals, malaria surveillance, data analysis, and data management, the project transfers practical knowledge that improves quality and understanding of data for decision making. Additional mentorship and on-the-job training is also provided for MCU program officers, both at the national and sub-national levels, with the intention of passing on skills that will have a strategic, systemic impact, enhancing sustainability and development. Such work is augmented by key information products – e.g., a quarterly Malaria Surveillance Bulletin, county malaria profiles, and annual malaria reports – that scorecard the progress of existing malaria program interventions against the set targets in the National Malaria Control Strategy and the Millennium Development Goals.
The theme of this year’s WMD is ‘Invest in the future: defeat malaria.’ While it is imperative that funding for innovative vaccines and other preventive and treatment options continues, it is also important that M&E receives the investment and strategic attention necessary to ensure gains made in the fight against malaria are understood and sustained.