The global battle to fight and eliminate malaria needs to be stepped up, and stepped up fast.
That’s one of the key messages resounding from last week’s landmark 1st Malaria World Congress (MWC2018) held in Melbourne.
More than 1000 delegates from 66 countries have returned home invigorated by the spirit of willingness for increased collaboration, innovation and engagement with affected communities to win the fight against malaria, a preventable infectious disease.
Malaria, a “disease of poverty” affects more than 216 million people globally and causes the deaths of almost half a million people, mostly children over five in Africa, each year.
Congress Founder, Burnet Institute Director and CEO, and malaria researcher, Professor Brendan Crabb AC said following MWC2018 there is a real hunger in the malaria community to not rest on the success of the last decade but rather feel uncomfortable that we have so much more to do.
Board Chair of RBM Partnership to End Malaria, Dr Winnie Mpanju-Shumbusho, said the global community is ready to create the momentum that pushes the fight against malaria to the finish line.
“This Congress has broken new ground and as the Statement (of Action) says we have a two-track fight in this war. You have countries that we have to work with to reach the finish line and stay there, and countries that have to break barriers over the burden of disease to break forward,” she said.
“So I think this is what history will write about malaria when we look back on this moment and say that the two tracks came together. We need to nurture this moment.”
The World Health Organization’s Professor John Reeder described the Congress as “fantastic - the first Congress of its kind … its so rare to see everyone together.”
“We do realise that to (eliminate malaria) we all need to be doing our part in that and put it all together, because in the end it is going to be that last child, that last mother, on a back road in a rural area that we need to get to. Discovery without implementation is going no-where,” he said.
Despite past success in global malaria control, the disease remains a major public health risk in tropical regions globally and this year the World Health Organization warned that progress in the fight to eradicate malaria has stalled.
Leading malaria researchers have argued not enough is being spent on eradication programs and drug-resistant strains of the disease are emerging.
Deputy Director Africa, Malaria No More, Ms Olivia Ngou Zangue said the people who suffer the most from malaria are refugees and the most vulnerable communities.
“We need to make sure civil societies are engaged in the decision-making processes and we ensure that we can make a big difference in policy changes and making sure that the programs will benefit the communities most,” she said.
“We also want to partner in eliminating countries and help with year-round surveillance because in those countries the communities will know whether people have malaria and civil societies are the ones that are the closest (to the communities) in those countries. So they can report more rapidly about malaria cases. In countries that are in pre-elimination phase, civil societies are even more important so we can track every single case of malaria and report that activity.”
Burnet Institute malaria researcher, Dr Herbert Opi said the “big picture talks” at the MWC2018 had an impact on his thinking about “what’s next” in the fight to eliminate malaria.
“Universal health coverage was one of the big things that has been talked about and how that is going to be important as we think about going the last mile in eradication,” Dr Opi said.
“A lot of times we think just about the drugs but not in the context of universal health coverage. When we think about vaccines and how effective they are, we don’t think in the context of infrastructure, hospitals and the facilities where they are going to be distributed.”
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