The Sahel Malaria Elimination Initiative (SaME) has been launched, but builds on a long history of cooperation in the region. Efforts by eight Sahelian countries to share lessons and strategies mirrors the Elimination Eight group on the opposite end of the continent.
The Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership to End Malaria announced that in Dakar on 31st August 2018, the health “ministers from Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and The Gambia established a new regional platform to combine efforts on scaling up and sustaining universal coverage of anti-malarials and mobilizing financing for elimination.” The group plans a fast-track introduction of “innovative technologies to combat malaria and develop a sub-regional scorecard that will track progress towards the goal of eliminating malaria by 2030.” This will build on the existing country scorecard that has been developed and implemented by AMLA2030 for all countries in the region and tracks roll out of key malaria and health interventions. The Sahel Malaria Elimination Initiative will be hosted by the West African Health Organization, a specialised agency of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).
RBM explains that while the eight countries will work together, they do not have a homogenous epidemiological picture or experience with malaria programming. The Sahel experiences 20 million annual malaria cases, according to RBM, and “the Sahel region has seen both achievements and setbacks in the fight against the disease in recent years.” These eight have a highly variable malaria experience. Burkina Faso and Niger continue to be among the countries with high malaria burdens. Cabo Verde is on target for malaria free status by 2020. The Gambia, Mauritania and Senegal are reorienting their national malaria program towards malaria elimination. A benefit of this epidemiological and programmatic diversity is that countries can learn important lessons from each other.
The SaME Initiative will use the following main approaches to accelerate the combined efforts towards the attainment of malaria elimination in the sub-region:3
- Regional coordination
- Advocacy to keep malaria elimination high on the development and political agenda
- Sustainable financing mechanisms
- Cross-border collaboration and ensuring accountability
- Fast-track the introduction of innovative and progressive technologies
- Re-enforcing the Regional regulatory mechanism for quality of malaria commodities and introduction of new tools.
- Establish malaria observatory, regional surveillance, and best practice sharing
Collaboration across borders on vector control is an example of needed regional coordination. According to Thomson et al., climate variations have the potential to significantly impact vector-borne disease dynamics at multiple space and time scales. Another challenge to vector control in the region is the issue of how mosquitoes repopulate areas after an extended dry season. Huestis et al. examined the response of Anopheles coluzzii and Anopheles gambiae to environmental cues in season change in the Sahel.
In addition to a history of cooperation, Sahelian countries share a unique malaria intervention, Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention (SMC) that as the name implies, built on the reality of highly seasonal transmission in the region. SMC grew out of over five years of research in several African settings to test the effect of what was originally termed Intermittent Preventive Treatment for Infants (and later children) or IPTi.
Like IPT for pregnant women, SMC would be given monthly for at least 3-4 months, but unlike IPTp, SMC would consist of a combination two medicines, amodiaquine plus sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine (AQ+SP), which required a three daily doses (SP alone as used in IPTp consists on one dose). SMC could not therefore, be delivered effectively as a clinic-based intervention, but “should be integrated into existing programmes, such as Community Case Management and other Community Health Workers schemes.” Access to SMC by pre-school aged children as delivered by CHWs was found to be more equitable than sleeping under an LLIN. SMC has been recommended for school-age children, a neglected group that bears a substantial burden of malaria.
Closely linked to surveillance is modeling the spatial and temporal variability of climate parameters, which is crucial to tackling malaria in the Sahel. This requires reliable observations of malaria outbreaks over a long time period. To date efforts are mainly linked to climate variables such as rainfall and temperature as well as specific landscape characteristics. Other environmental and socio-economic factors that are not included in this mechanistic malaria model.
The Sahel Malaria Elimination initiative offers a unique collaborative opportunity for countries to improve on the quality of proven interventions like SMC and test and take to scale new strategies like school-based malaria programs. Regional coordination can produce better, timelier and longer-term surveillance and better understanding of and actions against malaria vectors. Readers will surely be anticipating the publishing of the regular progress malaria elimination scorecards as promised by SaME leadership.