World Malaria Day at PATH: “We’ve learned what works.”

By Anna Jensen-Clem

On April 25th  more than 40 people from a wide array of global health nonprofits gathered to celebrate World Malaria Day at PATH’s headquarters in South Lake Union. Most of the evening focused on networking and a Marketplace event, where PATH, Pilgrim Africa, RESULTS, Rotary Malaria Partners, Seattle BioMed, the UW Department of Global Health, the Washington Global Health Alliance, World Vision, Health Alliance International, the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network, and Global Washington hosted informational tables and highlighted their latest malaria research.

Amie Batson, PATH’s new Chief Strategy Officer, convened a panel of four speakers to discuss challenges and breakthroughs in malaria research and to reflect on some of the upcoming issues in finding a cure. In her introductory remarks, Batson stated that we have seen a 50% decrease in malaria cases in many endemic countries over the past few years, because “we’ve learned what works and we’re having impact.” With new technological developments, we are even “better poised” to save children’s lives and eradicate the disease altogether.

The panel members each spoke briefly about their own research and discussed the importance of developing a preventative vaccine and ensuring that the parasite does not become (more) resistant to new forms of antimalarials. They also spoke to the need to keep donors and funders engaged even as they no longer see malaria as a daily, existential threat in many parts of the world.

David Brandling-Bennett, Malaria Program Deputy Director, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, outlined a three-point strategy for eliminating malaria, in line with earlier efforts to eradicate polio and measles. We need to start early in the hardest endemic areas; learn to “get the last mile right” using the right tools and approach; and gather information and data along the way—as the Carter Center has done for its nearly-successful guinea worm eradication effort.

Kent Campbell, Malaria Control Program Director, PATH, argued that defeating malaria “has no middle ground,” meaning that we can either eradicate it or allow it to flourish. Essentially, he said, “controlling malaria means getting rid of malaria.” At this point, one of the main challenges is to formulate strategies and funding programs for eradication.

Stefan Kappe, Malaria Program Director at Seattle BioMed, emphasized the need for the right tools and argued that eradication without an effective vaccine will be extremely difficult because we need to focus on blocking transmission from mosquito to human in addition to treating the symptoms once someone is infected.

Carol Sibley, Scientific Director, Worldwide Artemisinin Resistance Network, focused on finding the right tools to mitigate resistance. Although some level of resistance to antimalarials is inevitable, she said, the real question is “how do we slow it down?” We need sensible, usable data and a centralized database for analysis; this will aid in finding solutions and slowing the speed of resistance.

For more information about World Malaria Day and PATH’s work to eradicate the disease, please visit their blog, and for more information about last night’s event, you can follow the twitter hashtags #WorldMalariaDay and #MalariaExpoSea.