University of Pretoria’s Malaria Institute secures major Phase II grant to boost malaria leadership in southern Africa

Posted on April 23, 2024

The University of Pretoria Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP ISMC) was awarded a substantial grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation totalling $1.64 million. This funding injection will empower the Institute to continue strengthening leadership and management capacity in the southern Africa region over the next three years.

The grant will allow for the continuation of the Institute’s successful “Advanced Leadership Programme for the Elimination of Malaria,"  launched in April 2022. By leveraging this funding, the Institute will strengthen leadership and management skills of national malaria control programmes (NMCPs) and stakeholders across the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) region, foster cross-border collaboration, grow research networks, drive innovation, implement effective strategies against malaria, and help build resilient health systems capable of withstanding future threats.

Although African countries have made significant strides in combating malaria, the continent continues to disproportionately bear the burden of this disease. The continent accounted for 94% of the estimated 249 million global malaria cases in 2022. Out of the estimated 608 000 malaria-related deaths, 95% were reported on the African continent. The renewed grant signifies a resounding vote of confidence in the UP ISMC's efforts to address the scourge of malaria in Africa, specifically southern Africa.

Central to the UP ISMC's programme is the recognition that effective leadership and management are indispensable for successful public health interventions. By empowering individuals with skills to navigate challenges, make evidence-based decisions, and mobilise resources effectively, the institute aims to catalyse transformative change and accelerate progress towards malaria elimination in southern Africa. With this funding, the Institute is poised to expand its reach, extending its leadership course to new territories and equipping a broader cohort of professionals to combat this deadly disease.

“The successful elimination of malaria in the SADC region hinges on the ability of NMCPs to equip themselves with a versatile and skilled team of leaders, managers, implementation scientists, and facilitators. This team must possess the expertise to develop and implement evidence-based strategies for elimination effectively,"  said Professor Tiaan de Jager, Director of the UP ISMC.

The structure of the course remains similar to the initial two-year Phase I-funded programme. The programme will be delivered by the UP’s Gordon Institute of Business Science (GIBS), with contributions from the Albert Luthuli Leadership Institute (ALLI), the Albertina Sisulu Executive Leadership Program in Health (ASELPH) and global malaria experts. The curriculum is updated annually based on lessons learned; new innovations in malaria control and elimination; and feedback from various stakeholders.

The programme consists of three consecutive modules: Science of Leadership and Effective Management; Evidence-based Decision-making; and Science of Malaria and Malaria Elimination. Training methods include an online learning and blended approach, with interactive leadership engagement sessions, and online coaching with experts in various fields. The first two modules are presented virtually, with the third module taking place over a period of 10 days at UP’s Future Africa Campus.

Each participant must identify a gap within their country’s control programme, and develop a system strengthening project that addresses that problem, leveraging the expertise of stakeholders and experts in malaria to have an actual impact on affected communities. “On completion of the course, participants will receive a certificate of competence with credits, which some participants can put towards higher degrees and diplomas,"  said de Jager.

The eight southern African countries benefitting from the course so far, are the Elimination 8 (E8) initiative countries – Angola, Botswana, Eswatini, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. The E8 coalition collaborates across national borders to eliminate malaria in southern Africa by 2030. “There exists an extreme interconnectedness in the E8 region, with shared related populations, economies, ecologies, and disease epidemiology, which creates challenges but also opportunities when looking at malaria control and elimination. The participation of the E8 countries underscores the importance of regional cross-border collaboration in the fight against  malaria," said de Jager.

One of the key highlights of the renewal is the inclusion of three additional southern African countries in the programme, broadening the geographical scope of the Institute's efforts and ensuring that more communities have access to vital leadership and management training in the fight against malaria. The Institute is committed to enrol 60 participants annually in the programme, and striving to ensure that at least 50% of these participants are female. The aim behind this is to maximise impact, nurturing a diverse cadre of leaders and managers who will play instrumental roles in driving malaria elimination efforts forward in their respective countries.

Reflecting on the linguistic diversity of southern African countries, the course will again be simultaneously presented in English and Portuguese in 2024 and 2025, creating opportunities for Lusophone Angola and Mozambique to benefit from training that is often not available in their national language. In 2026, the programme will broaden its language offerings to include French. 

“Education with impact is at the core of our efforts at GIBS. This programme made possible by the foresight of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation resonates with our mission of delivering responsible business education from Africa to the world. Crucially, this programme allows us to make a small contribution in building leadership capacity towards malaria elimination in the SADC region, home to more than 250 million people,"  said Professor Morris Mthombeni, Dean of GIBS.

The UP ISMC forges ahead with renewed determination and a clear focus, with the aim to make a tangible difference in the lives of millions affected by malaria in southern Africa.

- Author Dr Taneshka Kruger

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