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Zambezi Expedition 2008

Fighting Malaria on the River of Life

In 1858, renowned explorer Dr. David Livingstone began an expedition up the Zambezi River from its mouth at the Indian Ocean. He hoped to find a navigable route up the “River of Life” for commerce and mission work.
Instead he found only misery: impassable rapids, a thieving crew, and malaria. On April 29 1863, his wife died from the disease and was buried along the water’s edge.This April and May, a humanitarian expedition will travel along the historic path of Livingstone in inflatable boats from the source of the Zambezi in Zambia to its delta in Mozambique. Its mission? To deliver lifesaving malaria prevention and treatment (bed nets, medicines) to remote villages along the waters edge and highlight the efforts of the modern-day explorers who are working to rid the world of this ancient plague. BBC World is producing a 60-minute documentary (audience: 282 million households); journalist from around the world will join the river crew. On land, a press officer will inform the media and ensure coverage.

Malaria kills more African children than any other disease; 3,000 children a day and over 1 million people a year. Yet, there’s growing optimism that the world can win this fight. Donor funding is up 300% in the last 3 years to more than $1 billion/year, and aggressive new control efforts are producing success stories across sub-Saharan Africa. A multinational effort by Mozambique, South Africa, and Swaziland reduced malaria cases 87% in seven years; the Tanzanian islands of Zanzibar reduced malaria cases 86% in three years. Emboldened by these successes, Bill & Melinda Gates recently called on the world to work toward eradicating malaria from the globe.

Led by a team of seasoned guides and medical professionals in partnership with leading malaria-fighting groups including the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, UNICEF, MACEPA, MMV, and Malaria No More, this first-of-its-kind expedition will visit six malaria-endemic countries (Mozambique, Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Angola) highlighting different aspects of the effort.

Individual events will showcase life-saving interventions including insecticide-treated bed nets and powerful new combination drugs, which will be delivered by the crew. (Landmine removal in Angola is only one of the hurdles the team will face.) The expedition will mark World Malaria Day (April 25th) in Livingstone, Zambia, with press conferences and events.

Beyond its humanitarian purpose, the trip will provide rich visual and storytelling opportunities. Scenic Victoria Falls, christened by Livingstone in 1855, is only one of the natural splendors along the Zambezi’s 2,500-mile length. Its shoreline is dotted with buffalos, zebras, giraffes, and elephants; its waters swim with hippopotamuses, crocodiles, and “Zambezi Sharks,” as bull sharks are locally known for their abundance.The expedition’s goal is to make the Zambezi – a source of life in the region – a “River of Life” for those threatened by malaria.

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Roll Back Malaria Zambezi Expedition 29th March 2008 – 31st May 2008

The Roll Back Malaria Zambezi Expedition

On 29th March 2008, the Roll Back Malaria Zambezi Expedition will launch into a two months voyage on the Zambezi river to showcase successes and highlight challenges associated with the fight against malaria across the six countries of the Trans-Zambezi region. By exposing the difficulties of delivering prevention and treatment tools in Angola, Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, the Roll Back Malaria Zambezi Expedition will demonstrate that only a coordinated cross-border action can force the disease to recoil and turn the lifeline of southern Africa into a “River of Life” for those threatened by malaria.

Traveling down river through six countries, the Zambezi Expedition will help to voice each country’s unique story of struggle and success while rallying government and public support for a common Zambezi-wide malaria control strategy that is currently in the making.

Countries in the Trans-Zambezi region have successfully implemented and are continuing to strengthen their malaria control programs.Yet for communities cut off from effective malaria protection and treatment by geographical barriers, conflict, or lack of infrastructure and resources, life remains difficult and precarious. Indeed, illness from this preventable and treatable disease causes loss of income and productivity on a scale large enough to slow a country’s economic growth by as much as 1.3% per year.

MALARIA – The lethal disease that holds back southern Africa

The Zambezi, winding for 2500 kilometers between stunning cliffs, majestic vistas and fertile lowlands, is the lifeline of southern Africa. Yet both development and tourism are being held hostage to malaria, a disease that kills over one million people a year, most of them in Africa. After two years of preparation, Expedition Organizers Helge Bendl and Andy Leemann are partnering with the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, six countries from the Southern African Development Community, non-profit institutions and private companies to put a spotlight on the plight of malaria-stricken communities in Africa, suffering 90 percent of the global annual death toll.

Promoting cross-border cooperation to turn the Zambezi into the “River of Life”

The expedition crew, accompanied by local medical personnel, community workers and media teams, will meet river communities in each country to diagnose malaria cases, deliver immediate relief and engage the local population in the fight against malaria.

Engaging remote communities and calling for concerted cross-border

The crew’s provisions and resources are small compared to the enormity of the problem they are meant to alleviate.No single crew, however well-meaning, and no single government, however committed, could win alone the fight against this resilient disease. By exposing the successes and challenges facing each of the six countries’ national malaria control programs, whether in promoting prevention or in delivering treatment tools, the Zambezi Expedition will demonstrate the need for coordinated cross-border action to force malaria to recoil. Five countries in the region are developing a joint action plan and a proposal for an increased coverage of populations at risk. If successful, the proposal will receive financial assistance from the Global Fund, the world’s largest financier of malaria control programs, and help relieve the heavy burden of malaria in the Trans-Zambezi region.

Showcasing success and helping understand challenges

To raise public and donor support for future cross-country initiatives, the Zambezi Expedition will narrate stories of triumph of the kind that come to life when political commitment is backed by expertise and funding. One such cross-border project, covering parts of Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland decreased malaria cases in the Lubombo region by 82 percent in four years – a success that paints a brighter future for the new Zambezi-wide initiative. Footage captured during the Zambezi Expedition will illustrate the complex challenges and daunting obstacles that malaria control workers are facing daily. It will show how cross-border movement, lack of health facilities, an overburdened health workforce and missing infrastructure obstruct and delay the delivery of malaria prevention and treatment to those who need them most. Highly mobile in nature, the mosquitoes that transmit the lethal malaria parasites to humans can spread the disease from malaria-endemic countries to malaria-free ones. By showing how malaria is transmitted across national borders, the Expedition will bring home the need for close cross-border collaboration among countries in the region.

Advocating for renewed commitment to fight malaria: taking the story to the media

The Zambezi Expedition will help to voice each country’s unique story of struggle and success and project them to national and international media outlets to spread awareness of both the problem and its solutions and to alert the donor community of areas where action is most urgently needed.

The Trans-Zambezi region in brief: Progress and Challenges:


A large proportion of the country’s population is protected by nets and spraying measures. Coverage with artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) is the highest in Africa. Pregnant women have wide access to anti-malaria prevention. Delivering commodities and services to remote river communities, however, remains a major challenge.


Health care systems in Angola have suffered severe damages due to 27 years of civil war. As a result, 70% of the population has poor or no access to government health facilities and malaria commodities. Malaria accounts for 35% of mortality among children under the age of five.

Namibia and Botswana

Namibia and Botswana are almost malaria-free except for an area around the Zambezi river and border regions. Elimination of malaria in the two countries would greatly enhance tourism and economic development in the Zambezi corridor, which is famous for its agriculture and tourist attractions.


Ongoing economic difficulties are obstructing malaria control efforts in a country which had historically made much progress in the fight against the disease.


99 per cent of the population in Mozambique is at risk of contracting malaria. Regular flooding of the Zambezi compounds the malaria problem.There is a need to expand spraying, increase use of long lasting nets and improve coordination.

About the partners Roll Back Malaria Partnership

The Roll Back Malaria Partnership (RBM) provides cohesive and comprehensive support to countries burdened by malaria and leads advocacy campaigns to raise awareness of malaria at the global, regional, national and community levels and mobilizes resources for malaria control and research.

Expedition Organizers

Helge Bendl, a CNN awarded journalist, and Andy Leemann (RIB Expedition S.L.), who has planned river expeditions on the Amazon, Mekong and Orinoco, will lead the Expedition and navigate the river with their crew, medical personnel and media teams on board four inflatable boats, supported by land vehicles.


The Southern African Development Community (SADC) was set up to harmonize and coordinate policies of member countries to achieve collective self-reliance and improve the living standards of the people of the region. SADC Member States are Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.


Malaria No More, ExxonMobil, Novartis, Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), Nets for Life, The Coca-Cola Africa Foundation.


The Zambezi Expedition has received in kind support from the following suppliers: Bestard, Coleman, Nautica Reynes, GD Itronix, Imnasa, International Paint, Lalizas, MACS, MarineTrack, Marinepool, Premier Auto Benoni, Waeco, Yacht Center Palma, Zodiac.