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MIM 2018 Live Report Tuesday 17 April

April 18, 2018 - 01:09 -- MESA Alliance

April 17th  - Plenary session 3

Presentation: Engaging communities in the last push towards malaria elimination

Dr. Halima Mwenesi, Director, Infectious Diseases Division, Global Health Programs, Global Health, Population and Nutrition Group, Washington, DC,

Dr Mwenesi’s presentation focussed on the engagement of communities in malaria control in order to enhance people’s responsibility to take care of their own health. She stressed that this behavioural change is needed to build on the successes that have been achieved in combating malaria in the past. She said that community engagement improves equity, inclusivity, coverage, access and quality of health care. An important highlight in her presentation was the concept that in order to engage communities, information alone is not enough, and that sensitisation, mobilisation and involvement are required to empower the community.

Looking forward, she pointed to three implications of this community engagement: first, the need for better ways to engage communities, second, the potential to use models to predict human behaviour and to measure impact of behaviour change and lastly, the utilisation of IT advances to expand the possibilities around implementation and delivery strategies.

Presentation: Eradication of malaria and eradication of poverty: A 2030 SDG nexus?

Prof Jean-Paul Moatti, CEO of IRD and member of UN Expert panel for GSDR 2019.

Prof. Moatti’s lecture focussed on the idea that even though extreme poverty significantly reduced over the past years, the benefits of the increase in wealth has not been equally distributed.

In order to achieve malaria eradication, there should not just be a focus on malaria but it needs to be addressed in relation to the Sustainable Malaria Goals (SDG’s) in general and SDG 3 “Good health and well-being” in particular. Universal health coverage with a guaranteed package of basic health services could contribute to preventing illness and reducing poverty. Understanding the interaction between malaria and other SDGs will create positive synergies that contribute to eradication of malaria. Prof Moatti ended his talk with the final mobilizing message “Let’s impose solutions to the poverty – malaria – inequalities – nexus in the 2030 SDGs agenda”.

The plenary was chaired by Prof Wilfred Mbacham, Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University of Yaounde.

Reported by Manuela Runge 

Symposium: Malaria elimination: Country-driven and country-owned

This session examined the need for countries to set and own the agenda for local malaria elimination, while also integrating within the global health agenda as outlined in the WHO Global Technical Strategy of 2015. The WHO Global Malaria Programme was represented by Dr Kim Lindblade and Dr Abdisalan Noor. Dr Lindblade presented the updated 2017 framework for malaria elimination. This provided guidance on the tools, activities and strategies required to achieve malaria elimination and prevent re-establishment of transmission in countries. She clarified that a set of interventions containing four components are recommended, including: a) enhancing and optimizing vector control and case management; b) increasing the sensitivity and specificity of surveillance tools; c) accelerating transmission reduction, and d) investigating and clearing individual cases. She emphasized that political and financial commitment are important conditions to prevent re-establishment of malaria transmission. The framework presented by Dr. Lindblade is intended to inform national malaria elimination strategic plans and should be adapted to local contexts. Following this talk, Dr Noor  provided an overview of the “Malaria surveillance, monitoring & evaluation: a reference manual”, of the WHO Global Malaria Programme. Click here to download the manual.

To provide a perspective of endemic countries, participants in the symposium were provided with insights from Zambia and Senegal, mostly focusing on the current efforts and recent successes from these two countries. Dr Elizabeth Chizema Kawesha, Director of the Zambia National Malaria Elimination Centre, first presented their National Malaria Elimination Strategy, which was launched in 2017. She explained that the rationale for the strategic plan was the drastic decrease of malaria cases between 2001-2017. The Zambia elimination strategy targets specific high-priority areas with a package of interventions, selected based on transmission levels. Here, districts with 50 or more malaria cases per 1,000 people, focus on reducing the disease burden and strengthening health systems. On the other hand, districts with fewer than 50 cases per 1,000 people will mainly focus on surveillance as the key intervention. With this strategy, Zambia aims to achieve malaria elimination by 2021.

Dr. Médoune Diop (Ministry of Health of the Republic of Senegal) provided an overview of the strategies that were implemented in Senegal between 2001-2017, with a particular focus on the surveillance and elimination issues, process, progress and challenges. He showed how Senegal has adjusted their monitoring system over time, resulting in a decrease of malaria morbidity and mortality between 2013-2017. He finally stressed the need to adapt surveillance, monitoring and evaluation according to the progress made towards malaria elimination.

Reported by Camila Damasceno

Symposium: Gene Drive for malaria control

Scientific advancements, regulatory affairs and stakeholder engagements are all critical pillars in the development and acceptance of any new technologies for malaria control. According to Dr. Jonathan Kayondo of the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), the need to consider all these components is even greater for genetic modification approaches, particularly the potential use of gene drives to reduce Anopheles mosquito populations in Africa. Dr. Kayondo was speaking at a special symposium organized by Target Malaria, a non-for profit research consortium, championing a multi-layered strategy for evaluating the use of genetically modified mosquitoes, particularly the use of gene drives, for malaria control and elimination. In gene drive systems, new traits deliberately introduced in Anopheles mosquitoes can rapidly spread through interbreeding populations of malaria mosquitoes from very low initial introductions, and could persist in those mosquitoes indefinitely or until the target mosquito population is locally eliminated. Dr. Kayondo described various steps that his team is taking, with examples of work in Uganda and other African countries and why multisectoral championship is desirable to ensure eventual success of such approaches. It is expected that if successful, the gene drive approaches would become very high impact interventions for large-scale and rapid control of malaria transmission, either by transforming the mosquitoes to be refractory to malaria parasites, or by causing their populations to dwindle so much that they can no longer sustain transmission.

Ace North (Oxford University, UK) delivered a talk on a model simulation of gene drives control of malaria vectors in Burkina Faso. Key objective was understanding the dry season survival of mosquitoes, and how these may impact the gene drive technology application in Africa. Dr. North clarified that this iss still work in progress, but that the models show great promise of this technology in the African context

Tibebu Habtewold (Imperial College, UK), then gave a talk on mosquito population replacement strategies driven by CRISPR/CAS technology targeting the ookinete-oocycst developmental stage. The aim is to stop populations of Anopheles gambiae from transmitting malaria in wide geographical areas using gene drive. He emphasized that their approach, which uses high safety standards with Mobile Insectary Laboratory (MIL) modules, will overcome some of the challenges of setting up gene drive technology research, by enhancing tests and evaluations of transgenic mosquitoes in disease endemic countries.

An increasing number of African scientists expected to play leading roles in implementation of gene drive technologies in Africa, have been trained by the Pan African Mosquito Control Association (PAMCA) and Target Malaria. This was the message by Prof. Antonio-Nkodjo Christophe (Board Member PAMCA). The training included focus group discussions on public health benefits of gene drive and how to facilitate a smooth introduction in Africa. PAMCA is playing a critical role in meeting the challenges facing gene drive implementation in Africa by assisting in changes to Biosafety regulation and securing political endorsement by African Union assembly.

Peter Winskill (Imperial College, London) spoke on challenges faced by current vector control tools of insufficient insecticide treated bed nets coverage, outdoor biting mosquitoes, insecticides resistance and resurgence of cases. While the existing tools have been effective, they may not be enough and gene drive technology would possibly cover the gaps. A model of the effects of addition of genetically modified mosquitoes to global technical strategy toolkit showed promising results. Gene drive technology may play a key role in future efforts towards elimination.

Lastly, Prof. Lizette Koekemoer (University of Witwatersrand, South Africa), the chair of the Symposium guided the active participants in a Q&A session exploring various issues on gene drive technology.

Reported by Shehu Shagari Awandu

Symposium: How to confirm absence of transmission in the last step towards elimination?

This session revolved around the critical need for local evidence confirming transmission or no transmission in areas targeted for malaria elimination. Prof. Chris Drakeley, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), talked about essential measures necessary to document malaria elimination and the role that serology could play in the context of heterogeneous transmission. To obtain these metrics, we need to employ either cross sectional surveys using sentinel populations or transmission assessment surveys.  Prof. Drakeley highlighted various metrics that could be used, but also stated that since these different metrics have limitations, combinations of them can be used to provide a more complete picture. He also stated that serological assays can provide additional approach to show absence of exposure, but robust health systems and passive surveillance detection are key to confirmation of elimination.

After the introduction by Prof. Drakeley, three researchers from the Malaria control elimination partnership on Africa (MACEPA), presented methods and results from surveys to assess malaria parasitemia and serological prevalence in near-zero transmission settings in Senegal, Ethiopia and Zambia

Dr. Yakou Dieye, senior technical officer from PATH-MACEPA Senegal, pointed out that data from easy-access survey in children provided similar conclusions to the community-based survey, as they are operationally easier and might be a good alternative to the more expensive community surveys. Besides, serological-surveys might be an appropriate complement to clinical surveillance data to validate surveillance results.

In the same framework, Dr. Asefaw Getachew, senior technical advisor from PATH-MACEPA Ethiopia, stressed that, even though there were zero reported passively detected local cases in the two last years, sero-prevalence showed that there were still some residual transmission. Importation could play a role in this residual transmission.

Lastly, from PATH-MACEPA Zambia, Dr. Mulenga Mwenda, laboratory scientist, focused on the molecular surveillance in areas approaching malaria elimination in Southern Zambia, a region with much higher prevalence than Senegal and Ethiopia.  She raised the interesting question, “Is zero really zero?” and discussed how to we could be sure that no reporting means zero malaria cases. The overall conclusion was that serological markers are more sensitive tools to use in the final steps of elimination than RDTs or PCR. 

Closing this symposium, Dr. Gillian Stresman, research fellow of immunology & infection at the LSHTM, focused her talk on Freedom from infection (FFI), the probability there is an infected animal if there is one in the herd/flock/population in situations where surveillance activities have detected no infections. The FFI tools provides a potential standardized approach for informing decision-making that is being explored for use in malaria. However, questions on applicability of these tools on malaria and other human disease remain.

Reported by Helena Marti Sole

This blog was written by Camila Damasceno (Independent Consultant), Manuela Runge (Swiss TPH), Shehu Shagari Awandu (Radboud UMC) and Helena Marti Soler (ISGlobal) as part of the MESA Correspondent program, and is cross-posted on the MESA website and MalariaWorld.