NEW YORK — Much of the world’s brain power and political power directed at the war against malaria converged in hotel ballroom here today — World Malaria Day 2011 — and a few key themes kept emerging:
- Because of dramatic progress in malaria control the last few years, a goal of near zero malaria deaths by 2015 is within our grasp — it is not a dream.
- We already have the tools we need for effective malaria control. We just need to scale them up and use them more smartly.
- Although this progress has been in all elements of the trifecta of malaria control — prevention, treatment and diagnostic testing — it has been mostly in prevention, and much more needs to be done to improve and expand treatment and diagnostics.
- We need to be more efficient in allocation, spending and programming of resources, and in measuring the health impact produced with those resources.
- Partnership matters. One of the reasons for the success is that the formerly splintered malaria community somehow came together.
It was a Malaria Roundtable Luncheon sponsored by the U.N. Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria, Roll Back Malaria, the United Nations Foundation and UNICEF and those in attendance included UN Special Envoy for Malaria Ray Chambers, U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative Director Tim Ziemer, Roll Back Malaria Executive Director Awa Marie Coll-Seck and PSI Global Ambassador Mandy Moore, among others in the global malaria community.
Ms. Moore provided the human face of malaria through a story about Pauline, a woman she met in a village just outside, Bangui, in the Central African Republic, where a “stream of stagnant water through the middle of the village provided the perfect breeding ground for water-borne disease.” Pauline had recently lost two children to malaria within a month of each other. Pauline knew that nets could protect her children but she couldn’t afford them for the children she lost. A PSI and Nothing But Nets campaign distributing free nets has now been implemented with the goal of delivering at least one net to every family in the CAR, greatly increasing the chances that Pauline will not lose her remaining children to malaria.
Ms. Moore said her three most important messages are: 1) Malaria is preventable; 2) We already have proven tools and resources; and 3) Everyone can play a role in defeating malaria.
While we have been highly successful in malaria prevention, we now need to turn our attention to treatment and testing. “The energy we have employed in ramping up distribution of insecticide-treated nets now needs to be applied to diagnostics and treatment, ” said Dr. Rob Newman, director of the Global Malaria Programme of the World Health Organization.” Failure to move forward on diagnostics is a huge risk. Most people we treat for malaria don’t have malaria.”
These kind of global health events rarely produce any real news but this was an exception. At the end of the event, Harvard School of Public Health announced plans to develop a major initiative that “will mobilize Harvard’s vast intellectual resources to support the effort to defeat malaria.”
Professor Dyann Wirth, chair of immunology and infectious diseases at Harvard, called the new initiative “a flagship university-wide effort focused exclusively on the control and eventual eradication of malaria” that will “engage faculty, students and alumni. It is our hope that this new effort will provide a model for the kind of role which universities uniquely can play in helping to tackle some of the world’s most important and complex problems.” It will engage several other Harvard schools including the Business School, the Kennedy School of Government and the Medical School, among others.