“This congress was a significant global moment in the fight against malaria - it brought together the two streams of high burden and elimination that had been largely operating separately, and put the spotlight on the central importance and role of civil society in this fight.”
- Dr Winnie Mpanju Shumbusho, Chair of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria Board.
We ended last year absorbing the stark message that the global fight against malaria is at crossroads: After unprecedented success in controlling the disease, the downward trend was over and malaria cases marginally increased between 2014 and 2016 globally, with cases increasing by 20% or more in 25 countries. We could choose to either innovate and re-double our efforts to end malaria – or continue with business as usual, and risk unravelling a decade of fragile gains against the disease.
The first half of 2018 has provided obvious signposts of the direction we intend to take, with malaria elimination emerging as a clear priority for the international community. First came the remarkable energy, collaboration and political commitments at the Malaria Summit alongside the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London. Then last week in Melbourne, the first Malaria World Congress built on the political momentum, offering a platform to work through some of the immediate and cross-sectoral implementation challenges facing the malaria elimination goal in thousands of local contexts where it must be achieved.
One apt description of the Malaria Congress was a ‘coming together’ of people, of organizations, of places and of specialities that have previously seen malaria through their own particular context or focus.
One conspicuous example was seeing some of the largest funding organizations – the Global Fund, the US President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to name just a few – standing united in support of the greater and more meaningful engagement of civil society and communities in malaria responses.
We heard Congress stories of doctors, epidemiologists, programme managers, economists, social scientists, policy-makers, civil society advocates and service providers, entomologists, diplomats, laboratory technicians and many more sharing ideas and peering, wide-eyed, into one another’s worlds. For sure, this new-found accord is worth celebrating. Coming together forces us to explore our assumptions, learn one another’s language and interweave diverse ideas. Surprisingly, this may have been the first real chance the malaria community has had to think together in this way about the one disease we are all striving to end.
Right from the beginning and building throughout, meaningful engagement of civil society and communities was the inevitable clarion call of the Congress. Against the backdrop of the sustainable development goals and evolving universal health coverage frameworks, the fundamental nature of malaria as both a determinant and a consequence of poverty is undeniable. Consequently, demands for more effective, sustainable, people-centred, rights-based, equitable and inclusive malaria programmes and interventions – particularly for vulnerable and underserved communities – resonated with all sectors and across the sixty plus countries represented.
The collective calls to action are captured in the 1st Malaria World Congress Statement of Action and in the Global Civil Society for Malaria Elimination (CS4ME) Declaration. Both are available for download here.
By the closing discussion panel, we had arrived at one lingering question: For all the commitments and pledges to work together in more effective ways to end malaria, where does the buck stop? Who is accountable if elimination succeeds or fails? As the Congress took place in Melbourne, the African Union was launching the ‘Zero Malaria Starts With Me’ campaign in Nouakchott. Perhaps we can all take a lead from that campaign by accepting that each and every one of us must take a stand and hold ourselves accountable to ensure that we succeed.
It only remains for us to thank you all for your active, focused and dedicated participation in the 1st Malaria World Congress, whether you were onsite in Melbourne or watching with interest from a distance. We trust you returned home safely and look forward to crossing paths again soon.
Professor Alan Cowman, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research
Professor Brendan Crabb, Burnet Institute
Associate Professor Helen Evans, Nossal Institute for Global Health and Burnet Institute.
Co-Chairs of the 1st Malaria World Congress
Photography credit: Stewie Donn