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Raymond G. Chambers: United Nations Special Envoy for Malaria and Health MDG Financing

Raymond G. Chambers is the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Financing the Health Millennium Development Goals and for Malaria. Mr. Chambers, a philanthropist, has directed most of his efforts toward improving the health and well being of children. He is the Founding Chairman of the Points of Light Foundation and co-founded, with Colin Powell, the America’s Promise Alliance. Mr. Chambers is the Co-Founder of the National Mentoring Partnership, and of Malaria No More.
 
In February 2008, the Secretary-General of the United Nations appointed Mr. Chambers as his first Special Envoy for Malaria. Visibility, awareness, and funding for malaria have each increased exponentially since then, with over $4 billion raised, over 400 million mosquito nets distributed and millions of treatment courses administered.
 
In February 2013 the Secretary-General expanded Mr. Chambers’ mandate as his first Special Envoy for Financing the Health Millennium Development Goals  – the internationally agreed set of humanitarian targets which come due in December 2015.  Mr. Chambers serves as one of the UN Secretary-General’s MDG Advocates and chairs the MDG Health Alliance.  He is also Co-Chairman of the Board of GBCHealth.
 
In his business career, Mr. Chambers was Chairman of Wesray Capital Corporation, which he co-founded with Former Secretary of the Treasury, Mr. William E. Simon.

 
Ann Paisley Chandler: Your philanthropic endeavors continue to inspire others.  What led you to take on malaria as your cause? 
 
Ray Chambers: Usually dozens and hundreds of individual moments guide a person down a particular path.  In some instances, a single event stands out as pivotal, which is what happened for me with malaria.
 
One day, I was shown a picture of African children who appeared to be sleeping.  I remarked how cute they looked.  I was told, “Ray, you don’t understand.  These children are in malaria comas.  They may have all died.”
 
That image, those memories, never will leave me for as long as I live.  More than any other experience, that moment inspired me to devote myself fully to malaria, first launching Malaria No More with Peter Chernin, then accepting the United Nations Secretary-General’s appointment to serve as his Special Envoy.
 
Chandler: Malaria was eradicated in the United States in the early 1950s, but in Africa today, almost 1,500 children die from malaria each day.  In 2008, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon appointed you as the first UN Special Envoy for Malaria.  Discuss the great progress that's been made in the fight against malaria and predict its future.
 
Chambers: We continue to see some truly encouraging results.  Malaria mortality already has declined from over one million annually to half that number in under a decade.  Over one million lives have been saved, a direct outcome of a massive, coordinated scale-up that has delivered to sub-Saharan Africa over 400 million nets since 2008, along with hundreds of millions of treatments and diagnostics.
 
We set an ambitious target of bringing about near-zero malaria deaths by the conclusion of 2015.  I believe we will accomplish this goal if we first secure funding to close any outstanding gaps – which I am confident we will do – to sustain coverage at the high levels we already have attained.  At the same time, increasing the supply and distribution of treatments and diagnostics will receive a great deal of attention, especially as we drill more deeply into the process of separating malaria cases from conditions with similar symptoms, for instance pneumonia. 
 
If we continue with discipline and urgency on the path we have set for ourselves, I know we will succeed.
 
Chandler: Can you tell more about the new medicines in the pipeline that should be more effective as both a malaria prophylactic and for treatment?
 
Chambers: The malaria community always maintains a watchful eye on the threat of resistance to “artemisinin combination therapies”.  It is the most effective treatment available to those who contract the disease and one that is derived from the Chinese wormwood plant, so it is based on a natural substance.  Widespread resistance would be disastrous.  The announcements regarding the production of semi-synthetic artemisinin, which would help ensure a steadier supply, give us reason for optimism.  As for resistance, the pipeline also offers good news, as clinical trials have started for some single-dose medicines that might also serve as prophylaxis for travelers, and “transmission blockers”. 
 
As malaria-control strategies both broaden and become more targeted, we encourage the ongoing creation of more sensitive diagnostics in low-transmission regions and, for high-transmission regions, promote the design of more powerful interventions, such as longer-lasting nets containing more sophisticated insecticides.
 
Chandler: To date, there has never been a vaccine against malaria or any other human parasite. I understand that GSK’s malaria vaccine that is over fifty percent effective should be on the market by 2015.
 
Chambers: GlaxoSmithKline’s entrance into Phase-3 trials gave a boost to the entire malaria effort, as we finally had a real breakthrough in the area of vaccines.  The early findings indicate we could possess a significant tool to control the risk and severity of malaria, with up to 50-percent effectiveness among certain populations, but it is not quite as potent as we would have hoped.  The trials continue, so we may not have availability until after 2015, though.  When ready, this particular vaccine could have an important impact when used in concert with other interventions, like nets and treatment, rather than as a “stand-alone” intervention.
 
Chandler: I know first-hand the devastating impact that malaria has on Africa. Explain to our readers how malaria impedes stability and economic development in Africa. 
 
Chambers: Malaria has devastating effects on health care systems, local economies and social advancement.  The disease has accounted for more than 50 percent of outpatient and inpatient visits in high-transmission regions, just one example of the unnecessary strain placed on communities.  Economists historically cite malaria as a major impediment to development, due to absenteeism, compromised productivity and health costs, among other factors.
 
Interestingly, amidst the global financial downturn, African economies have grown at an impressive average annual rate of six percent.  It is no coincidence that this progress corresponds with declines in malaria incidence and mortality.
 
The relationship between a decreased malaria burden and increased economic activity suggests we examine the question from a different perspective, looking instead at the returns you can expect through investments in malaria and health.  For malaria, we know that the return on investment approaches 40-to-1.  That is incredible by any measure – certainly the highest I have seen in my over 20-year career in business.  The World Bank has just gathered strong empirical evidence in Africa that links spending on health and nutrition to enhanced development.  Additionally, the World Bank’s analysis also shows – and this is some of the most fascinating information on the topic that I have come across – that in East Asia, improvements in health preceded surges in economic expansion.  The data speak for themselves.  Health comes before wealth.  If nations invest in health, as they have with malaria, economies will grow. 
 
Chandler: What are ways our readers can get involved in the fight against malaria?
 
Chambers: We need malaria to remain a priority among the leaders who allocate the resources that drive our efforts.  The United States, the United Kingdom, Norway, Sweden and several other nations have contributed significantly to the fight through bilateral aid and pledges to multinational entities, notably the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which provides the majority of the funding we require.
 
Recently, President Obama’s budget proposal included $1.65 billion for the Global Fund, which likely translates into a $5-billion commitment to the body as it undergoes a crucial $15-billion replenishment campaign to cover estimated needs for the next three years.  These bold steps deserve the public’s recognition, which should build support for our cause.  In the same way, citizens always should hold officials accountable.  Individually and collectively, through social media and traditional channels, you can influence the leaders who will determine the lives of so many people.
 
I also would like to add that malaria needs your best thinking.  Fewer barriers separate an idea from becoming action in today’s world.  I always am motivated by young people who examine a malaria-related problem and implement an innovative solution, even on a smaller scale.  In fact, Harvard University recently launched a contest, challenging their students to submit proposals on how they would address some aspect of malaria control.  New York University could look at a similar initiative.     
 
Chandler: Congratulations on your recent appointment as the UN Special Envoy for Health MDG Financing. Please tell us more about this expanded role.
 
Chambers: We have fewer than 1,000 days until December 31, 2015, the deadline to achieve the Health Millennium Development Goals (MDG), which are to reduce child mortality by two-thirds from the 1990 baseline (Goal 4), reduce maternal mortality by three-quarters (Goal 5) and reverse the incidence of diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis (Goal 6).  While the world has made notable advances on these fronts, we have calculated that we must avert an additional 4.4 million preventable child deaths between now and the end of 2015 to complete our MDG mission.
 
Malaria accounts for a sizable number of these deaths, so we will continue to accelerate our plans.  We also have focused on the leading causes of child mortality, such as pneumonia and diarrhea, and have identified the commodities that will protect and treat children at risk of these afflictions.  The next step will be to amplify the provision of the commodities where the greatest needs exist. 
 
We are working to bring together our partners around this commodities-focused business plan.  With the dedication of Norway, Sweden, USAID, the United Nations Commission on Life Saving Commodities, the World Bank and many others, we will have in place a coalition with the strength, expertise and will to save 4.4 million children. 
 
Finally, there is one outstanding question that we simply must answer by the end of 2015, and that is ensuring that we provide treatment to everyone with HIV who needs it, as well as ensuring that all nine million people who need treatment for tuberculosis get it.  On HIV, experts believe that doing so would cut transmission by around 68 percent, really bringing us close to the “end of AIDS”.   We have a real responsibility to get this done, and we will.

 

Ray Chambers and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon

 




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