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Time for action: about malaria, poverty and travel

October 19, 2021 - 13:58 -- Malaria World


As a community of malaria professionals, we are committed to ridding the world of a disease that causes suffering in many low and middle income countries (LMIC). At the same time, our collective air travel contributes to climate change that has major health consequences and disproportionally impacts LMICs and vulnerable groups. Here, we propose the ‘Thoughtful Travel’ approach to improve the sustainability of our work.

We are calling upon the academic community, especially those in high income countries, to adopt a different way of working that involves considerably less air travel. This does not mean zero travel. It means adopting the low-carbon practices that we have used during the pandemic and being very selective about the air travel we do.

Sign the ‘Thoughtful Travel Pledge’ and start a conversation with your project team, institution, and funders about how you can implement a thoughtful travel strategy.

Link to the Thoughtful Travel Pledge and Petition

Teun Bousema & Kate Whitfield

The need for thoughtful travel by malaria researchers

Malaria is inextricably linked to poverty and inequality. Similarly, the negative consequences of climate change hit the poorest hardest, exemplified by the major climate change famine in Madagascar this year. As professional malaria community, we are committed to improving global health. At the same time, our air travel contributes to climate change. This contribution is not as small as we might hope. Take academic conferences as an example: the total annual carbon footprint of academic conferencing exceeds the annual CO2 emission of the whole of Uganda with a population of over 47 million. Or consider that a single round trip from London to Seattle emits 2.6 tons of CO2-equivalent emissions per passenger, roughly the same as the total annual carbon footprint of 15 Tanzanian citizens. If you travel in business class, this at least doubles your carbon emissions, because you take up much more space than in economy class. As malaria professionals, we must rethink how we operate and how this affects global health.

"If we can reduce our carbon footprint, we will not have to compound the current global health challenges with the burden of the climate crisis."

Dr. Melissa Kapulu, Kenya Medical Research Institute, Kenya

With the Thoughtful Travel Pledge, we are calling upon the academic community, especially in high income countries, to adopt a different way of working that involves considerably less air travel. This does not mean zero travel. Research exchanges, data collection, and capacity building activities are essential to advance progress against the disease. However, the past 2 years have shown us how we can meet online and what trips are really critical. This resulted in >1000-fold reductions in carbon emissions. It is time for all malaria professionals to adopt a ‘thoughtful travel’ approach that is mindful of climate change and its impact on global health.

“It is imperative that those of us more established stop and think very hard before embarking on any further international trips. We should ask ourselves who will really benefit from a trip, and at what cost to those that follow after us, and to those whose livelihoods we claim to seek to improve.”

Prof. Hillary Ranson, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK

Thoughtful travel involves:

  • being mindful that the carbon associated with air travel is greater than any other form of travel;
  • being mindful that the negative impacts of climate change hit low- and middle-income countries (LMIC) the hardest;
  • reflecting on the lessons we have learned from the travel restrictions during the COVID pandemic, including that many meetings are possible online, allow more inclusive participation and that research in LMIC can continue without frequent visits from researchers from the Global North.

We can achieve this by:

  • maintaining the virtual connections for project meetings;
  • participating in virtual conferences;
  • being selective about air travel;
  • prioritizing low-carbon travel by train and by coach where possible;
  • prioritizing travel for researchers from LMIC, and for junior researchers to have high-value international experiences;
  • maximizing the impact of our work when we do travel by plane, for instance by staying longer, scheduling multiple meetings, and combining meetings with teaching.

“Whilst I can’t deny I will miss the travel, I can no longer justify further contributing to the climate crisis by undertaking ‘nice to do’ trips.”

Prof. Hillary Ranson, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, UK

For many of us, thoughtful travel will mean fewer trips. This is particularly relevant for senior staff with more established careers.

“We need a fundamental change in the way we view and plan our air travel to give priority to our more junior colleagues who will benefit more from any international exchange experience.”

Prof. Chris Drakeley, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, UK

The aim of the Thoughtful Travel Pledge is to stimulate discussion and action. Start a conversation with your project team, department, and institution about how you can implement a thoughtful travel strategy. And importantly, with your funders to advocate: (1) investments in quality internet connections, innovative approaches, and technologies for networking and conferencing; (2) support of grantees to prioritize low-carbon travel even if it is more expensive than flying; and (3) adoption of thoughtful travel practices by institutions in high income countries.

"Let us come together to collaboratively pledge to reduce our carbon footprint, to fly less."

Dr. Melissa Kapulu, KEMRI, Kenya

Podcast -  Episode 9: The Thoughtful Travel Campaign with Kate Whitfield and Teun Bousema

 We invite you to share your thoughts and give us your feedback below

Sign the Thoughtful Travel Pledge now!


Prof. Teun Bousema, Radboud University Medical Centre Nijmegen - The Netherlands, is an infectious disease epidemiologist specialized in the biology and epidemiology of Plasmodium falciparum gametocytes and transmission-blocking interventions.


Kate Whitfield, Barcelona Institute for Global Health – Spain, is a Sustainability Specialist with 9 years of experience coordinating the Malaria Eradication Scientific Alliance (MESA).