The article below was contributed by Nick Brown of A-Z Textile Mills Ltd.
Anuj Shah was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of the family company A to Z Textile Mills Limited in 1995. Although A to Z had been producing polyester netting for the local market since 1972, the re-start of the previously abandoned attempt to eradicate malaria had only just begun. “Net Gain – A new method for preventing malaria deaths” was only published (by IDRC and WHO) in 1996 and Anuj Shah was there from the very start of this new fight against malaria. Don de Savigny (Swiss TPH) and the late Tim Manchester (PSI) met Anuj in Arusha in 1997 and pointed out there would be a substantial market for high quality, large coloured nets and Anuj accepted the challenge. As Jane Miller, then working at PSI recalls, “Anuj was simply a visionary”.
A to Z’s polyester bed net SafiNet® was officially launched in Dar es Salaam in 1998 and in the following years, Anuj’s energy, drive, optimism and continuing investment expanded capacity to reach 6 million nets in what was (in 2002), the largest vertically integrated mosquito net plant in Africa. When bundling of nets with treatment kits started under the SMARTNET project, it was Anuj Shah’s proactive example that led to all nets manufactured in Tanzania by being sold with a bundled kit. When the Tanzania National Voucher Scheme was started in 2004 making a home-treated ITN accessible to millions of pregnant women and new-born children, it was Anuj Shah who enthusiastically embraced the public private partnership concept and without his example it is doubtful that the other three bed net manufacturers would have joined the scheme.
The World Health Organisation first started to talk about pre-treated LLINs in 1999 and again Anuj Shah was one of the first people to understand the advantages of LLIN technology over conventional dipping. A series of meetings with WHO and other potential partners took place with the objective of getting LLIN technology transferred to Africa. Following an introduction to the Sumitomo Chemical Company and a technical explanation of the Olyset® technology in Arusha, the way forward was clear. Takaii Itoh remembers Anuj with these words: “Your decision made LLINs a major tool of malaria control worldwide. We will never forget your tremendous contribution…”
In early 2002 Rustom Masalawala who led the Acumen Fund’s Health Portfolio had been charged with finding investments that could make a profound difference to the lives of the people and met Anuj in the old factory in down-town Arusha. He listened to Anuj and Kalpesh Shah talk about the potential for this new technology and at the end of a long day they shook hands. “We will do this with or without you”, said Anuj. “If we can do it together, that would be best, but we will go forward”. Shortly thereafter, Jacqueline Novogratz at the Acumen Fund approved the investment.
Jacqueline remembers watching the Olyset factory grow from the first two lines to eventually becoming the 70,000 square foot, well-lit factory that followed. “Anuj looked at all the women sewers with great pride and almost a look of awe as he took it all in. He wanted to get everything right regardless of the constraints he faced. He was always unafraid to try new things and increasingly recognized his role as a business leader.”
What started as a technology transfer in 2002/3 ended up as a true partnership between A to Z and Sumitomo Chemical Company who jointly agreed with Anuj Shah to build a new plant in Kisongo, outside Arusha. As Rustom Masalawala recalls “Kisongo was an empty place when the new factory first started. He bought seventy acres of farmland. I wondered what he would do with this empty place, with barely a road, no water, marginal electricity, and miles outside the town. Who would come there to work, and how? More than once I expressed my skepticism, and Anuj gave me that wistful smile and said “It will happen. It just takes time”.
Lisa Goldman-Van Nostrand also recalls Anuj’s words at the time. “When 90% of the malaria deaths are in Africa, why should we have to import bed nets? These jobs are transforming our community and we are seeing that children are staying in school longer as one immediate result.” In 2007 the new plant was opened and now has the capacity to produce 30 million nets each year. Thanks to Anuj Shah’s vision, inspirational leadership and entrepreneurial business acumen, A to Z is now the biggest manufacturer of LLINs in Africa and among the top three producers in the world.
The innovation continued. In order always to remain ahead of the game and in partnership with Sumitomo, the joint venture company Vector Health International opened the Africa Technical Research Centre in 2012 to develop new vector control and agricultural technologies. Anuj Shah continued to the very end to encourage and drive the development of a new combination LLIN to combat the ever-increasing challenge of insecticide resistance and to develop a new approach to combatting outdoor malaria transmission in co-operation with Swiss TPH and the Ifakara Health Institute in a new, IVCC funded push-pull project. It is important to recognize that in addition to his huge contribution to the fight against malaria, Anuj Shah has been instrumental in establishing an injection molded household plastics business, a massive woven polypropylene packaging plant (used for cement, fertilizer and agricultural commodities), the complete revamping of the company’s garment business, the development of netting and other products for horticulture and most recently, in 2015, the installation of a multi-layer blown film plant to manufacture on-farm hermetic storage bags for small holder farmers to mitigate post-harvest losses.
It is impossible to summarise all the tributes to Anuj Shah here; so many people have paid testimony to his vision, his drive, his refusal to be deterred by issues that would have defeated lesser men. He was a very special person who inspired those who worked with him. He was always the perfect and considerate host, unfailingly kind to his visitors and always generous with his time, however pressing business affairs might be. Now he is gone but his legacy lives on. We owe it to his legacy, to the hundreds of thousands of lives already saved from malaria, to the thousands of jobs created in Arusha, to continue his work. Together the partnerships that Anuj Shah has created, forged and believed in so strongly will continue to carry us upward to the broad sunlit uplands of a world eventually free of malaria and rural poverty.
Anuj Shah is survived by his two adult children Mira and Viral, their mother Harsha and many other members of his extended family. We share their grief and our thoughts are with them all at this most difficult time.
(Picture shows Anuj Shah with Paul Simpson and Jane Miller)