April 25, 2020

World Malaria Day 2020: Zero Malaria Starts With Me/Us

By Matthew S. Lynch

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Another way of saying this, in the context of World Malaria Day (WMD) 2020, is the World Health Organization’s (WHO) WMD theme this year: “zero malaria starts with me.”

MCDI holds this philosophy close at heart in everything we do globally empowering communities to take stewardship in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment regarding malaria. Especially now, with no global gains in reducing new infections from 2014-8 and COVID-19 disrupting malaria global supply chains, we know it is up to us (and many other individuals) to keep malaria high on political, scientific, and social agendas. We understand from experience the consequences for infectious diseases that disruptions as well as halted progress cause, and therefore take this WMD to recommit to controlling and eliminating malaria amid/despite disruptions.

Throughout this past year, MCDI contributed to its mission through several flagship endeavors.

Advancing Progress in Malaria Service Delivery Globally

MCDI is proud to continue our work with USAID/PMI over the last 13 years, under the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) Impact Malaria Project, reducing the burden of malaria and save lives. Beginning in 2018, the 5-year project is expected to buttress malaria service delivery efforts in about 25 countries across Africa and Asia. As the team’s diagnostic leader, treatment co-leader, and operational studies implementer, MCDI provides technical assistance to galvanize host countries’ capacities to scale up high-quality diagnostics and treatment services for malaria. These goals include expanding the use of high-quality diagnostics, strengthening laboratory systems, fostering appropriate treatment of malaria, and improving quality assurance and control for both malaria diagnosis as well as treatment. Through its first two years, under Impact Malaria, MCDI and its partners empowered 11 countries including Benin, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Zambia.

Racing to Zero Malaria

2019 was a very big year for MCDI’s work fighting malaria in Equatorial Guinea. First, MCDI’s Bioko Island Malaria Control Project (BIMCP) and the Equatorial Guinea Malaria Vaccine Initiative (EGMVI) fused to create the Bioko Island Malaria Elimination Project (BIMEP). The aim of the new team is to bolster malarial elimination efforts through Sanaria’s PfSPZ vaccine (which can confer up to 100% protection) and effective malaria control measures such as indoor residual spraying, bed net distribution, diagnostics as well as treatment, and social behavior change.

Second, MCDI ended the year (and began 2020) by receiving the 2019 Concordia P3 Impact Award from the U.S. State Department, which recognizes public-private partnerships that effectively address global challenges. This award commemorates the impact of BIMEP’s efforts, reducing transmission by 99% and mortality in children under the age of five by 63% in Equatorial Guinea.

BIMEP continued this great work in 2020, protecting more than 100,000 people through two indoor residual sprayings and distributing about 33,000 life-saving materials to pregnant women and the military. Additionally, BIMEP inaugurated the construction of the new Baney Laboratory Center - which serves as the central diagnostic and testing site in the country - as well as progressing in the PfSPZ malaria vaccine trials, beginning to recruit volunteers for human trials.

As part of this long-term public-private malaria elimination initiative, the BIMEP project also informs the broader malaria control and elimination strategy for the rest of sub-Saharan Africa.

Fortifying Malaria Care Infrastructure

Through MCDI’s Gabon Malaria and AIDS Control Program (GMAC), we established strong local partnerships and assembled the infrastructure, systems, and human resources needed for success in the fight against malaria. This past year, GMAC reinforced the capacity of health centers to fight malaria by providing equipment, consumable supplies, and essential medicines. Through GMAC in fact, health facilities were renovated as well as augmented with malaria rapid diagnostic tests, and frontline health care providers - including laboratory technicians - received trainings in malaria prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. Additionally, GMAC empowered the local populations directly by distributing 13,000 latex condoms free of charge, 7,000 long-lasting insecticidal bed nets to pregnant women and children under five, and organized live edu-tainment events reaching 4,000 people which included radio spots.

Reducing the Burden of Malaria

Through the PMI Accelerating the Reduction of Malaria Morbidity and Mortality (ARM3) project in Benin, MCDI distributed over 12 million bed nets, increased the percentage of proper malaria diagnoses from about 65% in 2011 to about 95% in 2017, and tripled the number of pregnant women receiving at least two doses of vital preventative medicine.

Although September 2018 marked the end of ARM3, MCDI's malaria work continues in Benin expanding on the work of ARM3 in bringing the private health sector into a fully accountable and government regulated body through the USAID/PMI Private Sector Health Partnership Activity. The goal of this endeavor is to strengthen Beninese capacity to manage reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health (RMNCH) services including the prevention of malaria in pregnant women and children under five. We will accomplish this goal by expanding the volume of quality, high-impact RMNCH services delivered by private sector providers; increasing availability of affordable, quality health products through private sector channels; strengthening public-private engagement to promote universal RMNCH outcomes; and ensuring innovative, successful, private sector models are identified, tested, and applied.

Improving Malaria Diagnostics in Guinea.

MCDI is the diagnostic partner on the PMI StopPalu+ project led by RTI International. In this capacity, MCDI provides technical assistance to improve malaria diagnostic capacities at all levels of the health system. This includes training of trainers (TOT) for laboratory technicians in laboratory diagnostics and rapid tests, Malaria diagnostics refresher trainings (MDRTs), training, testing, and certifying laboratory technicians in malaria microscopy, and Outreach, Training, and Supportive Supervision (OTSS). In addition, MCDI works with community health workers to provide them with job aids and rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs), as well as hands-on on the job trainings.

Malaria in the Context of COVID-19

COVID-19 tests the resilience of health systems around the world, with various lockdowns and trade restrictions disrupting the same global supply chains global health organizations depend on to fight the myriad of other infectious diseases ravaging this planet. Efforts to fight COVID-19, while effective against it, must not impede efforts on other public health fronts like the one against malaria.

While the COVID-19 pandemic could be devastating on its own, this devastation will be substantially amplified if the response undermines the provision of life-saving services for other diseases such as malaria. As MCDI expands its capacities to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic, we will not falter in its efforts against malaria. Instead, we will take this time to strengthen investments in health systems and in community measures to continue the gains we’ve made over the past 15 years as well as to save as many lives as possible.

The journey to zero malaria starts with a single step by all of us, and MCDI will continue in its mission to control and eliminate malaria unabated. Keep up to date on our efforts and successes through this blog or by following us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn).

Matthew S. Lynch is the Assistant Communications Officer for MCDI in the US.

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