25th April. Yet again another World Malaria Day. This day is commemorated since 2007. And in this last 11 years, so much was achieved, thanks to existing tools and combined efforts from governments, NGOs, civil society groups, researchers, corporate sector, and communities in endemic countries. Back in 2007, more than a million deaths were due to malaria, while the numbers of 2016 have decreased below half a million (WHO World Malaria Reports). So we should celebrate…
Except that the last World Malaria Report showed that the progress was stalling. So we are now at a crossroads where new commitments and innovations are needed to get this number eventually down to zero and to eliminate the threat of a massive resurgence due to drug and insecticide resistance. If we fail, if we think the worst is behind us, malaria will come and bite us again.
The recent commitment from Commonwealth heads of state to halve malaria across the Commonwealth by 2023 is a strong signal sent to the world, as of course the 2.9billion GBP of financial commitments. This is a call for action, to make sure that existing tools are implemented in a coordinated and effective way. But as a not-for-profit research consortium we also hear the call for more research and development to complement the existing toolkit with innovative, sustainable and complementarity tools.
While the Commonwealth Malaria Summit was taking place in London, a large group of researchers from Target Malaria was at the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria in Dakar, Senegal, where researchers from the African continent and partner institutions were sharing ideas, learning from their research.
Dr Jonathan Kayondo presenting our research
Target Malaria organised a symposium on gene drive research for vector control where the project was presented by Dr Jonathan Kayondo (UVRI) and Dr Ace North (Oxford University) presenting some exciting modelling. Other presentations were made by Dr Tibebu Habtewold (Imperial College London) on gene drive alteration strategies, Dr Antonio Nkondjio Christophe (PAMCA) on African perspective about challenges and opportunities of gene drive and Dr Peter Winskill (Imperial College London) on the need for new complementarity tools for elimination strategies. The session was well attended, and an interesting discussion emerged about timing, modelling hypothesis, technical aspects of gene drive technologies, etc.
Mireille Bilonda, Krystal Birungi, Marie-Ange Rason, Tilly Collins, Nuraan Fakier, Muhammed Afolabi and Ikeoluwapo Ajayi; Speakers in the MIM 2018 session on Bioethics and Research Capacity.
The project was also present with more specific presentations about its stakeholder engagement approach, its field entomology, some ecological data about Anopheles gambiae predators and modelling.
For Dr Tilly Collins who participated with a poster and a presentation: “MIM meeting [was] a wide-reaching conference where science, policy and delivery interface in a dynamic and constructive way in order to create the partnerships, maximise coordination and move towards a world free of Malaria. Target Malaria’s work is now being actively discussed in many fora as a complementary approach that has the potential to become a significant part of the anti-malaria tool kit.”
So today for World Malaria Day, we commit to contribute to a world free of malaria through responsible research to develop and share an innovative vector control tool using genetic approaches and to work with others along the way so that in the future World Malaria Day can become the celebration of a global effort achieving malaria eradication!