Business Joins African Effort to Cut Malaria

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Excerpt: With malaria spread across southern Mozambique, executives at the international mining company Billiton expected some workers to call in sick as it began building a massive new aluminum smelter amid the cornfields here.

What they did not expect was that nearly one in three employees would fall ill ? 6,600 cases in just two years. And they certainly did not expect 13 deaths, not after the company had built a medical clinic, doused the construction site with pesticides and handed out bed nets to thwart malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

“You can imagine, it was a huge disaster,” said Carlos Mesquita, the general manager. “We could not deal with that level of absenteeism, and we would have had more fatalities. If we didn’t treat malaria we could not operate.”

But confining measures to the plant, executives realized, would not protect their 1,100 employees, or their $1.3 billion investment, so long as malaria raged all around it, including in the capital, Maputo, just 10 miles up the highway.

And so one of the world’s biggest aluminum producers joined in an exceptional partnership with the governments of three countries and with other businesses to take on malaria systematically across a broad region. Six years later, the scorecard is in. Amazingly, malaria is losing.

Wielding a combination of new medicines, better bed nets, old-fashioned pesticides and computer analysis to clean up the most afflicted areas, the smelter and its partners in business and government have turned malaria in one of its former hot spots into a manageable threat.

Source: The New York Times (link opens in a new window)