RBM Partnership Governance Transition: Evolving to Meet the Moment

By Dr Winnie Mpanju-Shumbusho

As World Malaria Day 2023 approaches, I am pleased to take this opportunity to reflect on the great progress that malaria-affected countries and the global community have made in the fight against malaria. As one of the oldest deadliest diseases in history, and despite being preventable and treatable, malaria has had a massive toll on people’s health and livelihoods around the world. For over two decades, the RBM Partnership to End Malaria has played a critical role in this fight—for example, helping to reduce deaths from malaria by half, saving 10.6 million lives and preventing 1.7 billion cases since 2000. These results are a testament to the power of strong partnerships in driving progress, and the value of the RBM Partnership as a central collaborative platform in our joint mission to end malaria for good.

As a coalition of more than 500 partners, the RBM Partnership is continuously evolving and adapting to meet the emerging needs of malaria-affected communities, development partners and the global community as we work together towards a malaria-free world. The Partnership’s first point of evolution began about ten years ago as the world shifted from the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals, and to double momentum towards a malaria-free world. In mid-December 2013, the RBM Partnership Board commissioned an external evaluation to ensure the Partnership was well positioned to manage the changing environment. The external evaluation concluded that significant adjustments to the Partnership’s structure would be necessary, not only to sustain the Partnership’s goals, but to also deliver on the ambitious objectives of the WHO Global Technical Strategy for Malaria (2016-2030) and the accompanying RBM Action and Investment to Defeat Malaria (2016-2030).

After extensive consultation, the RBM Partnership Board agreed at its 29th meeting in December 2015 on a new governance architecture. This included the establishment of a reconstituted Partnership Board, which would optimize on the tremendous skill, energy and effectiveness of RBM partners and lead the organization into a new era with a focus on ending malaria for good. After a robust assessment and selection process, a new Board was established to take the revitalized Partnership forward to a new level in its evolution. The new Board was comprised of members with deep expertise and experience at senior decision-making levels as well as representation from across the Partnership, including malaria-affected countries, civil society, private sector, donors, entities from relevant sectors that are key in the zero-malaria vision, WHO and UNOPS (host agency and ex-official member).

The new Board assumed its responsibilities in April 2016, and I was honoured to serve as the Board Chair of the reinvigorated RBM Partnership from 2016 to 2019, during a time of transformation, innovation and rapid change. During this time, we established the new governance structures, mechanisms, committees and byelaws; examined and negotiated new hosting arrangements, mobilized resources, recruited a CEO and Partner Committees’ Chairs; bolstered the Regional structures, intensified political outreach, engagement and visibility; promoted the scaling-up of domestic investments in the fight against malaria in endemic countries, and fostered integration. Specifically, we boosted the Partnership as an advocacy and communications platform by launching the ‘Zero Malaria Starts With Me’ campaigns, strengthening engagement of governments, parliamentarians, civil society, donors and other partners. In addition, the reinvigorated Partnership facilitated the initiation of End Malaria Councils, secured increased funding from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria, and strengthened collaboration with the Fund, WHO and other key partners, including through the “High burden to high impact” initiative, a country-led response – catalyzed by WHO and the RBM Partnership – to reignite the pace of progress in the global malaria fight. The Board Self-Assessment, undertaken in 2019, provided a useful tool towards expanding the successes gained, facilitating future transitions and addressing new challenges. The Board has an inbuilt rotation scheme to aid transition and evolution to meet the moment.

Considering new global challenges, including the rapidly changing global health landscape, challenges triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic and other public health threats, and the changing financial ecosystem, the Partnership is optimizing on the 2022 Board Rotation process toward a new hybrid representation model. This model will be adapted to respond to emerging needs, further strengthen representation of malaria-affected countries and ensure the necessary replacement of Board Members who will be rotating out in May 2023. Along with our current Board Chair Professor Maha Barakat, who has deftly Chaired the Partnership Board for the last four years amidst new global challenges, the full Partnership Board and the Secretariat, I look forward to formally welcoming our new Board in May 2023.  We are confident that this new re-tweaked model and the new team of eminent Board members will steer the RBM Partnership’s delivery of the new Strategic Plan (2021-2025); and the Partners’ collective action to achieve the mission of ending malaria for good.

As we enter this new phase in the RBM Partnership evolution, I take the opportunity to thank all the affected countries and numerous partners and communities who have tirelessly fought and supported the fight against malaria for decades. Though we are proud of the tremendous progress that has been made, we recognize the remaining big task, the emerging challenges and the level of collective efforts and investments needed to finish the race. Under the continued leadership, investment, hard work and commitment of malaria-affected countries and communities, the incoming RBM Board’s stewardship, the support of partners and steadfast support of the RBM Secretariat, Partner Committees and Regional coordination mechanisms, the world can secure the Global Technical Strategy targets and take the race towards a malaria-free world to the finish line.

Dr. Winnie Mpanju-Shumbusho MD; MPH; M.MED, Former Board Chair, RBM Partnership to End Malaria (2016-2019), Former Assistant Director General, World Health Organization.
Dr. Winnie Mpanju-Shumbusho is a Tanzanian paediatrician and public health leader who until December 31, 2015, served as World Health Organization (WHO) Assistant Director General for HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases based in Geneva, Switzerland.