“Australia is deeply committed to eliminating malaria once and for all and the people in this room can help us achieve this goal,” said Hon Julie Bishop MP, Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs. “Diseases like malaria know no borders and health security is a global challenge. We need to operate transnationally.”
Today's Session Summaries.
The programme took off with an early start but Dr Oanh Khuat Thi Hai sparked the ‘Malaria Today’ plenary. She spoke with passion about the need for a community perspective in the malaria response. To illustrate, she showed us communities in the central highlands of Vietnam, where more people have died from malaria in the past five years than in the 20 years of the Vietnam War. Many suffer malaria at home, she argued, in poverty, with no hope. She emphasised that the disease is a real threat to human security and cannot be treated as a stand-alone issue – but must be considered through a human security and human rights lens. She stressed that we need to mobilize more local people in the fight against malaria and that civil society and community have a critical role to play in elimination. She also mentioned the formation of Global Civil Society for Malaria Elimination (CS4ME), a new civil society platform established during a pre-Congress preparatory workshop in Melbourne.
The head of WHO’s Global Malaria Programme, Dr Pedro Alonso, presented an overview of malaria today, referring to the “amazing decade”. Before this there was no significant vector control, and no significant financial support. With scale up of vector control, IRS and treatment came a dramatic fall in malaria cases and deaths. But he also highlighted that we have not decreased the annual number of cases since 2011 and there are still close to half a million deaths each year. Malaria divides our countries into two groups: eleven countries accounting for ~70% of the remaining burden, and 44 others well on the way to elimination.
Prof Simon Hay reinforced the critical role and power of precision. He used examples of both science and descriptive epidemiology to highlight the critical need to target resources where they are most needed. “We are at a crossroads, and trends are diverse between and within countries,” he said. In his overarching malaria messages, he stressed how every malaria-endemic nation will have successes and failures that they have to fully understand in order to eliminate the disease. “We must do a better job of supporting national capacity to track change as we strive to end malaria.”
Health security is a collective and individual responsibility requiring access to quality and safe health care, argued Prof David Heymann – from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and head of the Centre on Global Health Security at Chatham House – and ending malaria is closely related to achieving overall health security. Using examples such as Ebola and smallpox, which stress the need for dramatic action, he showed that the important underlying factors are more related to routine health systems and accessibility to resources. The same basic health system building blocks are among the essential requirements – and outcomes – of ending malaria. Prof Heymann underlined that with continued global advocacy, there is a great opportunity for malaria elimination to strengthen health systems, at the same time as promoting individual and collective health security.
In the final plenary session of the day, Dr Jimmie Rodgers emphasised the importance of elevating political commitment to malaria elimination and taking the argument beyond ministries of health. “How do we sell to make our leaders understand?” he asked, stressing that the way we communicate and the language we use often determines whether we successfully make the malaria case to political leadership. He added that many countries in the ‘Blue Continent’ are also impacted by an explosion in noncommunicable diseases, posing massive problems in terms of health care and infrastructure. A ‘multifocal’ attitude has to be taken to eliminate malaria in light of these other factors, and Dr Rodgers emphasised three key related messages:
- Political leadership – leaders have signed up publicly to the goal of malaria elimination by 2030.
- Need to involve everyone in the problem so that they are part of the solution
- The economic base of the Pacific countries is limited, and they need genuine partners that will be there for the long haul. In the past, malaria has declined, but bounced back again when resources were withdrawn before elimination.
In the panel discussion that followed, Dr Alonso argued that because malaria has been around for so long “it has become in some ways accepted, an invisible disease.” We need more media attention to mobilize the political leadership needed to end malaria.
“Investment in the community is the most sustainable investment,” suggested Dr Oanh. “There is no voice for the people most affected, unlike other diseases such as HIV with strong involvement of civil society.” She raised a cheer from the audience when she countered comments that community participation has been slow to act against malaria, stating that, in fact, engagement of civil society organizations has not been sought.
“We need to do something different – sell it differently,” said Dr Rodgers. “We need to think laterally and rethink how we tell the malaria story if we want to influence political leadership to end malaria.”
Malaria is resurging with a vengeance on our doorstep but the new drug tafenoquine offers hope: ABC News
Prof. Brendan Crabb, Burnet Institute, discusses the World Congress on Malaria. ABC News 24 (TV)