UP Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control co-hosts African Malaria Research Conference with the Medical Research Council

Posted on August 01, 2019

The University of Pretoria Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP ISMC) co-hosted the 5th Southern African Malaria Research Conference with the South African Medical Research Council (MRC) at the University’s Future Africa Campus last week.

A strategy to eliminate malaria in South Africa as well as malaria research being conducted in the country was unveiled as part of the conference proceedings. The conference provided a platform for established and emerging scientists and other members of the malaria research community to share or showcase novel findings, innovations, ground-breaking research, operations and actual experiences on the ground, and on-going collaborative efforts to eliminate malaria.

According to Professor Tiaan de Jager, Director of the UP ISMC and Dean of Health Sciences at UP, “the main purpose behind this annual conference is to share the research being done in South Africa and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) region in order to support and strengthen the National Malaria Control Programme’s strategic plan to eliminate malaria in South Africa, as aligned with the Sustainable Development Goals”.

UP Vice-Chancellor Prof Tawana Kupe at the conference gala dinner.

Prof De Jager explained that as co-host, the UP ISMC forms part of a relatively small malaria network in South Africa. “The Institute contributes to the research that is aligned with the National Department of Health’s drive to eliminate malaria. Malaria is on the Future Africa agenda as a hot topic requiring attention.”

The theme for this year’s conference was Cooperation and Elimination. Cross-border malaria, one of the thematic areas of the conference, poses a serious threat to South Africa’s malaria elimination efforts. The theme was selected in order to improve cross-border collaboration, which is vital, and also to contribute to a greater body of knowledge and research.

As one of three Collaborating Centres for Malaria Research in the country, the UP ISMC pioneers research on a range of methods for sustainable malaria control – from the biochemical and the biological to the chemical and the physical. Research is also being conducted on how best to manage these methods at a trans-disciplinary level. Community involvement and education are addressed as part of health promotion and a commitment exists to changing community behaviour towards malaria.

On day two of the conference, Wednesday, 31 July, the national Department of Health launched the revised Malaria Elimination Strategic Plan (2019-2023) which will provide the key strategic priorities and actions required to eliminate malaria in South Africa and the SADC by 2030. SADC heads of state and the government renewed their commitment to eliminate malaria (zero local malaria cases and deaths) by 2030. The strategic plan will provide a roadmap for translating commitments into concrete action.

Malaria is a complex parasitic disease confined mostly to tropical areas, and is transmitted by parasite-infected female mosquitoes of the Anopheles genus. This age-old disease is both preventable and treatable yet it still poses a risk to around 3.2 billion people worldwide. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) an estimated 219 million malaria cases and 445 000 deaths were reported worldwide during 2017. Most of these cases (200 million or ~92%) occurred in the WHO Africa region, specifically sub-Saharan Africa.

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize at the conference dinner.

The status of malaria in South Africa is not as dire when compared with other African countries, but elimination remains a key priority for the South African government, the National Department of Health, the South African Malaria Elimination Committee (SAMEC) and relevant stakeholders. Overall, malaria cases reduced from approximately 14 000 in 2014 to 5 800 in 2016, and increased to 30 000 during an epidemic in 2017 in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga provinces. Deaths similarly reduced from a high of 174 in 2014 to 54 in 2016, then rose to 329 during the epidemic in 2017.

Prof De Jager, who is a member of SAMEC said “a trans-disciplinary approach will be needed to get from malaria control to elimination. The strategic plan will integrate different methods and innovations to achieve malaria elimination while meeting the Sustainable Development Goal targets”.

Professor Tawana Kupe, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UP, said: “An Africa without malaria is possible in the not too distant future. However, knowledge is key. Researchers must keep researching new and innovative ways to beat malaria. At the same time malaria awareness and health promotion must be communicated to those most affected and vulnerable to the disease in order for people to know how to protect themselves from getting malaria, and to seek out medical help as fast as possible.”

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