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Sunrise over Obuasi

Health officials, business people and ordinary residents of Obuasi in the Ashanti region all agree that malaria has become a non-issue in their community, even though malaria remains a public health menace in other parts of Ghana.

Residents of Obuasi do not lose sleep over spending their monthly income on treating malaria. Health workers in the municipality do not have to cope with long queues of adults, infants and children presenting with suspected cases of malaria. This is as a result of the vigorous malaria control intervention in the area by AngloGold Ashanti over a decade through an integrated programme largely driven by the indoor residual spraying (IRS).

It has been years of beneficial co-existence by the mining giant and residents of Obuasi, where the company has its mining operations. Obuasi is a mining community in a typical rain-forest area. And this, coupled with the fact that it is vulnerable to illegal surface mining and has some open drains, makes it easy for water to collect , making the town a breeding place for mosquitoes.

Prospecting for gold environmentally impacts negat ively on communities in terms of lands and farms. Therefore the company motivated by these concerns and its value-driven ideals, rolled out various community intervention programmes, to make the community better off for its presence in the area.

Today, the Obuasi municipality is dotted with various development projects initiated by AngloGold Ashanti. Residents of the town can also boast of sleeping in peace, free from the irritating buzzing sounds of infectious mosquitoes.

The company is one of the world's leading gold producers and operates in 19 countries, including Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania and the United States with exploration rights in Alaska, China, Malaysia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Philippines and Laos. Quite a number of these countries and communities are located in malaria endemic zones.

History
AngloGold Ashanti relies on the local workforce and the high malaria cases among its workers in Obuasi were severely impacting on its business.

Around 2004 and 2005, the hospital operated by the company in Obuasi, was treating over six thousand cases per month. Out of this number, approximately 2500 cases were mine workers representing over 30% of the workforce at the mine. The treatment cost for mine workers alone cost the company about $660,000 per year.

This led to the decision to put in place a programme to deal with the disease in the area. Some years later, this programme eventually, led to the creation of an independent body, the AngloGold Ashanti Malaria Control limited, (AGAMal).

Mr. Eric Buetey, Head of Operations at AGAMal, explained that when the idea for setting up of a malaria control programme for the Obuasi mines in the Ashanti region was floated around 2004, a three-man team from the company was sent to Mpumalanga, in South Africa to pick up skills in a malaria spray training roject.

The association of Mpumalanga with what is known as “town of the rising sun” brought new beginnings, which is perhaps what began as a new era for change to deal with the huge malaria cases in Obuasi and beyond.

Mr. Buetey, one of the three who undertook the training in Mpumalanga, said the malaria control programme took two years to be operational in Obuasi in 2006, and this was after the merger of two mining companies. The merger was etween Ashanti Goldfields in Ghana, led by its Chief Executive Officer, Sir Sam Jonah, and Bobby odsell of AngloGold in South Africa, resulting in the creation of AngloGold Ashanti.

He said following the merger, AngloGold Ashant i, fel t very strongly about its corporate-social responsibility and believed that local community involvement and development are key issues to sustainable operations.

Mr Buetey explained that the idea for the creation of the malaria control programme was to go in for an integrated approach with the aim of reducing the incidence of malaria by 50% in two years, encompassing the Obuasi mines and township. AngloGold Ashanti supported the programme with $1.7 million and thereafter with $1.3 million per year.

He said the programme required careful planning and was structured on a series of surveys and institutions such as the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research came in to help.

The programme was integrated with some of the following components: Vector control – indoor residual spraying (IRS); distribution of insecticide treated nets; larviciding of breeding areas; information, education, communication and early, effective diagnosis and treatment. The programme deployed these interventions across the entire community, employing and training community members to deliver the services. Although, the target was to reduce malaria cases in the mines hospital to 50% in two years, within 13 months, the 50% mark was achieved.

Mr. Buetey said following the success of these interventions, the phenomenal story drew some attention and a proposal was put through to the Country Coordinating Mechanism in Ghana to the Global Fund for additional funding to scale-up its malaria activities to other parts of the country.

The programme was then registered as AngloGold Ashanti (Ghana) Malaria Control Limited, to separate it f rom the profit-making AngloGold Ashanti company. It was also to aid transparency in the procurement of items intended for use in the Global Fund grant to ensure efficiency and timely reporting required by the Fund. Under the Global Fund project, Mr. Buetey said "the initial grant objective was to achieve a scale up to 40 districts over a period of 5 years. However, in the third year of implementation, following a scale up to 25 districts, the introduction of the Global Fund’s new funding model led to a scale down to only 10 districts".

Mr. Ignatius Williams, officer in charge of monitoring and evaluation at AGAMal, said because the programme is currently Global Fund driven, they have to strictly conform to some guidelines to ensure judicious use of funds.

He explained data has to be collected on various indices such as how many houses are to be covered by the IRS and the number of people being reached, especially, vulnerable groups such as women and children to ensure proper monitoring.

Future
The Obuasi success story in dealing with malaria has al ready been shared by AngloGold Ashanti in operational areas like Guinea, Tanzania and Mali.

There are discussions to apply the “Obuasi Model” at other sites and assist other companies operating in Ghana. Already, companies such as New mont and Tarkwa
Goldfields have benefitted from the programme.