The female Anopheles mosquito is the biggest killer on the African continent. It and the deadly malaria parasite it carries have no respect for borders and despite the tremendous progress that has been made in reducing malaria deaths in the last decade, this preventable and treatable disease still kills approximately 450 000 people every year. As cross-border transmission of the disease is still rife all across southern Africa, it is unlikely that any single country will be able to achieve malaria elimination on its own. Through committed, regional partnerships however, there is an opportunity to end this terrible disease that so limits human development and prosperity.
In an effort to achieve this, eight southern African countries affected by malaria (including South Africa) have banded together under the auspices of an initiative called the Elimination 8, or E8, to implement malaria control and elimination strategies in a coordinated fashion. The aim of the initiative is to eliminate malaria in four southern African countries termed 'the frontline four' – Botswana, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland – by 2020, and to subsequently pave the way for elimination in four more termed the 'second line' – Angola, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe – by 2030. According to Prof Tiaan de Jager, Director of the University of Pretoria Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control (UP ISMC), the collaboration is not only necessary for the elimination of malaria, it is also strategically aligned with the University's Africa initiative.
The E8 Committee initiated talks with the University of Pretoria (UP), facilitated by the National Department of Health's Malaria Directorate, before the start of the much anticipated Second South African Malaria Research Conference that took place on UP's Groenkloof Campus in August this year. The conference was co-hosted by the UP ISMC and the Medical Research Council (MRC). The E8 Committee requested that UP leverage the opportunity to bring together researchers not only from South Africa, but from across the entire region. To this end, the E8 sponsored ten research candidates from the SADC region to present their work at the conference. They were chosen through a competitive selection process, where one of the main criteria for selection was that their research had to be directly applicable to the E8 strategy and furthering malaria elimination scholarship and research in the region. The winners' flights, accommodation and meals were fully funded by the E8 initiative and for some of them it was the first opportunity they have had to visit South Africa. The E8 Committee also generously co-sponsored a gala dinner with the UP ISMC at the Protea Manor Hotel in Hatfield on the evening of the second day of the conference, where the delegates had the opportunity to mingle and network in style. Ambassador for the E8 Countries and former Namibian Minister of Health and Social Development, Dr Richard Nchabi Kamwi attended the Gala and introduced the delegates to the origins and aims of the E8. Dr Kamwi, who holds a PhD in Science, also attended the first session on the third day of the conference to give his support to this initiative and to UP.
A lot of the research currently being conducted by researchers affiliated with the UP ISMC focusses on combatting malaria in E8 countries. The overarching aim of the Institute is to coordinate and promote collaborative research on safer and sustainable malaria control and management strategies, and to generate knowledge and support new activities pertaining to safe malaria control in Africa through fundamental and applied research. The diverse group of researchers within the Institute encompasses all aspects of malaria, with research clusters focussing on human health, parasite control and vector control, as well as a strong drive for the education of communities affected by malaria. In addition the UP ISMC also has a number of cross-border research initiatives in place. The most recent of these is a collaboration agreement with the Goodbye Malaria Foundation at Namaacha in Maputo Province in southern Mozambique, which will focus on establishing a research centre of excellence that will collaborate on research with the aim of eliminating malaria in southern Mozambique and South Africa. The UP ISMC will be the implementing and managing partner of this research centre and will be guided by the University of Pretoria's Gordon Institute of Business Science. It is envisioned that the facility at Namaacha will become a top international research centre and will potentially become the hub of all vector-control training for southern Mozambique and Swaziland. The Institute also plans to embark on various other research projects that will focus on the elimination of malaria in Zimbabwe, Botswana and Swaziland in the near future.
Conferences like the one recently hosted by the UP ISMC provide researchers from different disciplines with an opportunity to showcase novel findings, innovations and ground-breaking research, and to identify possible opportunities for future collaboration that could be of immense benefit to multi-national malaria elimination initiatives such as the E8. The presentations delivered by delegates, as well as the informal interactions between them during the conference and at the gala evening, once again highlighted the fact that much more can be achieved if researchers from different countries and different institutions share knowledge and ideas, and work together towards the common goal of a better life for all of Africa's people.