From Centre to Institute: chronicling five years of achievements

Posted on June 03, 2016

The establishment of the University of Pretoria Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP ISMC) was approved by the UP Senate on Thursday, 2 June 2016. 

The University of Pretoria Centre for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP CSMC) celebrated its fifth anniversary on 12 May 2016. The Centre was a fully integrated, multi-disciplinary, interdepartmental and interfaculty initiative. According to Prof Tiaan de Jager, Director of the new University of Pretoria Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP ISMC) into which the Centre has evolved, the Centre aimed to coordinate and promote collaborative research on safer and sustainable malaria control and management strategies and to generate new knowledge and support new activities pertaining to safe malaria control in Africa through fundamental and applied research, supported by research collaboration with regional, national and international partners.

The departments involved in this trans-disciplinary approach in various faculties at UP all have established research programmes aimed at combating malaria effectively without causing a health risk to humans. Combining all this research in a focused and well-managed Centre was a strategic decision. The diverse group of researchers in the Centre covers all aspects of malaria with research clusters focusing on human health, parasite control and vector control. Researchers also look for innovative methods to control malaria, including community focused health promotion and education towards the elimination of malaria in South Africa and Africa.

From its humble beginnings in 2011 the Centre has seen a range of achievements that contributed to its growth, the first of which was becoming one of the University's Faculty Research Themes (FRTs) on 17 May 2011. The FRT funding received from the University assisted the young Centre to lay a solid foundation. The Centre signed its first memorandum of understanding (MoU) on 9 December 2011 with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), which has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. This collaboration is still going strong.

On 12 October 2012 the Centre was awarded a South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI) in Sustainable Malaria Control. Prof Lyn-Marie Birkholtz from the Department of Biochemistry is heading the Chair and the parasite control cluster. The year 2013 saw the Centre launching a children's book, Sibo Fights malaria, on 29 November, an initiative aimed at educating children in rural areas about the disease. On 1 December a three-year Research Initiative was awarded to Prof Leo Braack, head of the vector control cluster.

Numerous smaller but important achievements also had an impact on the Centre's growth and national footprint. On 21 October 2014 the Centre was awarded Medical Research Council (MRC) Collaborating Centre for Malaria Research status, which really gave momentum to establishing the Centre's international footprint. The Centre then became known as the MRC & UP CSMC. In 2015 the Centre established the Remote Sensing for Malaria Control in Africa (ReSMaCA) programme in collaboration with various French institutions, the South African National Space Agency (SANSA) and the French National Centre for Space Studies. An MoU was signed with the National Institute of Parasitic Diseases at the Chinese Centre for Disease Control (CDC) on 6 October 2015.

The year 2016 marked the Centre's most recent collaboration agreement, which was signed between the Centre and the Goodbye Malaria initiative on 20 April. The two parties will establish a Research Centre of Excellence (CoE) at Namaacha in Maputo Province, southern Mozambique, with the aim to collaborate on research towards the elimination of malaria in southern Mozambique and South Africa. On 25 April the Centre launched an app, known as Malaria Buddy, in collaboration with Travel with Flair (TWF). The app is a modern tool that could be of benefit in the fight against malaria and that focuses on both collaborating institutions' clients – the people living in areas where malaria is endemic, and travellers or holiday makers moving in or through such areas. The Centre will also host the 2nd South African Malaria Research conference from 31 July to 2 August 2016.

Owing to its unprecedented growth, it was only natural that the Centre would reach a new milestone that would benefit it even further into the future. According to Prof Walter Focke, professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering, Director of the Institute of Applied Materials and co-founder of the UP CSMC, 'The UP Centre for Sustainable Malaria Control has opened the door for multi-disciplinary research collaboration on malaria within and outside the University of Pretoria. Since it now has achieved critical mass it is likely that our research efforts will have real impact in science and also in the real world.'

The 'upgrading' of the Centre to an Institute has the potential to open more and larger doors with regard to funding opportunities, which will result in more opportunities for postgraduate training and capacity building. The Institute boasts five years' achievements as a centre, including the involvement of researchers from departments from seven faculties at the University who collaborate internally, nationally and internationally on malaria-related projects and activities. The GIBS Business School is also linked to the Institute through the CoE at Namaacha. According to Prof Tiaan de Jager, all of the above will enable the UP ISMC to continue on the path it embarked on as a centre, with the focus on contributing towards eliminating malaria through research, innovation and education. High-impact research and a trans-disciplinary approach towards malaria will form the backbone of the new UP Institute.

 

- Author University of Pretoria Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control
Published by Carl Sandrock

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