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MIM 2013 Opens – MIM Chair Speech

MIMExcerpts of opening session speech by Professor Rose Gana Fomban LEKE at 6th MIM Pan African Malaria Conference looks at 15 years of the Multilateral Initiative for Malaria.

It’s been 15 years of promoting global co-ordination and collaboration in malaria research. In these years, MIM via its unique organizational structure consisting of multiple supporting mechanisms (MIM/TDR, MIMCOM, MR4 and MIMSEC) converging to strengthen researchers in malaria endemic countries, has been very influential in;

  • Developing sustainable malaria research capacity in Africa through funding high quality research,
  • Strengthening knowledge transfer between malaria research and control,
  • Raising public awareness of the malaria burden and
  • Promoting global communication and cooperation between organizations and individuals.

Importantly, MIM has played a significant role in attracting additional funds into malaria research and building research capacity in Africa. An assessment of the MIM/TDR research capability strengthening program in 2007 revealed that 69 competitive grants for research and training had been awarded to 56 African principal investigators working in 33 institutions across Africa. Most of the grants involved national and international collaboration and supported projects which focused on local priorities with potential impact on malaria control. With each grant awarded, funds were allocated to support masters and doctoral training.

A total of a hundred and seven PhD, 96MSc, and 15MPH students were trained within the projects. The projects also offered the acquisition of new skills, competencies through workshops and attachment to more advanced laboratories in collaborating institutions.  Some of the funded projects contributed to the pool of evidence that informed national decisions on;

  1. Antimalarial treatment policy,
  2. Insecticide resistance profiles and
  3. New strategies for effective malaria control.

Likewise, MIM Com with the overarching goal of enhancing communication and internet connectivity, successfully established internet connectivity through satellite- based transmission in 27 sites across 14 countries throughout the African continent. Through the activities of MR4, several African research laboratories have benefited from the free reagents, participated in MR4 organized workshops on the management of reagents, proprietary and ethical issues and quality control for African malaria research laboratories.

The MIM has also created unprecedented opportunities for interaction between scientists across Africa, America, Europe and Asia. From its first meeting in Dakar, Senegal, the MIM meetings have grown in size and quality making it the convener of the largest malaria gathering in the world. What an amazing trajectory over the last 15 years!  This strong pool of researchers, program managers, bilateral and multilateral institutions facilitates discussions on issues in malaria research and control, sharing of results from findings, sharing of best practices, and the forging of new collaborations.

Disease Eradication: Somalia Then and Now

In 1978 the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that, “As of April 14, 1978, no cases of smallpox have been reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) from anywhere in the world since the last case had onset of rash on October 26, 1977, in Merka town, Somalia. However, a total of 2 years of effective surveillance must elapse before this last endemic area can be confirmed to be smallpox-free.” Thirty-five years later Somalia is linked with difficult efforts to eradicate another disease, polio.

Now unfortunately, “Somalia hadn’t had a case of polio for nearly six years. But in the past few months, the virus has come back,” according to National Public Radio (NPR)  In fact the 73 cases reported from Somalia so far this year, surpasses the 59 cases reported in the rest of the world. NPR further notes that, “Somalia has the rate of polio vaccination in the world after Equatorial Guinea, according to the World Health Organization.”

Thirty-five years ago, challenges hampering disease eradication were the natural environment. “During October and November surveillance in Somalia has been severely hampered by heavy rains that have made it difficult or impossible to travel by vehicle. Since work has had to be continued on foot, there have been some delays in reporting and incomplete search coverage in certain areas,” CDC reported.

Today it is human conflict, not the weather, that inhibits control. NPR’s report notes that, “The Somali government directs the campaigns, but it doesn’t control or have access to vast swaths of the country. Some of the most recent polio cases have occurred in areas that are considered off limits to vaccination teams.” Conflict in Pakistan in December-January also tried to create off limits areas by killing polio workers.

Because polio is a fecal-oral disease it spreads with people. Not surprisingly, cases are appearing in Somali refugee camps in Kenya.  All countries in the region are on alert as extra vaccination efforts will be needed. And as NPR observes, this may draw resources from countries like Nigeria that are very close to eliminating the disease.  Ironically the polio virus strain found in Somalia was traced to Nigeria.

pf_mean_2010_som-sm.jpgPolio cannot be easily compared with malaria which has a vector, and also an larger arsenal of effective tools – insecticide treated nets, indoor residual spraying, chemo-prevention drugs, rapid diagnostic tests and effective medicines.  But the diseases face similar challenges that are more often human than deriving from the natural environment.  Human conflict deters malaria control in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, in the Central African Republic and in South Sudan.

Unlike for polio, we are not even close to numbering malaria cases in the dozens, but the as the recent Abuja Summit has shown, we must have the political will to rise above conflict and inefficient health systems and face down these devastating diseases.

(PS – fortunately as we can see in the attached map, malaria is not a pressing problem in Somalia.)

Tribute to Professor Celestine O. Onwuliri

Professor Oladele Akogun ( of the University of Common Heritage Foundation and the Federal University of Technology, Yola, Nigeria pays tribute to his colleague Professor CO Onwuliri

The death has been announced of one of Nigeria’s leading parasitologists, Professor Celestine Onwuliri in the DANA Air crash in Lagos earlier this month.  Professor Onwuliri taught helminthology at the University of Jos, where he made significant contribution to the epidemiological mapping and control of onchocerciasis in Nigeria.

epid-and-psycho-social-impact-osd-sm.jpgHe also trained many parasitologists who now hold positions in academics and policy both in Nigeria and overseas. Professor Onwuliri has also carried out research on malaria in recent times.

Professor Onwuliri was the President of the Nigeria Society for Parasitology in the mid-90s. He has also served as Commissioner in the government of Imo State, Nigeria. He was a university administrator holding position of Deputy Vice Chancellor and Acting Vice Chancellor at the University of Jos before his penultimate appointment as Vice Chancellor of the Federal University of Technology, Owerri.

His most recent position was at the National University Commission (NUC). He was a fellow of the Parasitology and Public Health Society of Nigeria and a member of the Nigeria Academy of Science.  With his departure the Parasitology community will miss one of its most beloved academics and leaders.