MIM – Fostering the next generation of malaria researchers in Africa – gaps and emerging opportunities

Dr Olumide Ogundahunsi of the of the Unicef-UNDP-World Bank-WHO Tropical Disease Research Program (best known as TDR) helped organize a symposium on the history and future goals of the Multilateral Initiative for Malaria (MIM) at the current MIM Conference. He describes the symposium, efforts to launch a MIM Society, and related issues below.

Dakar is hosting the 7th Multilateral Initiative for Malaria (MIM) Pan Africa Malaria Conference 21 years after the first such gathering of malaria researchers in the city in 1997. At that time Northern research and development organizations including NIH/Fogarty, WHO/TDR, Wellcome Trust, SIDA and others sought to take measure of the malaria research experience and needs of African scientists and scientific institutions. It was challenging at that time to find strong and representative core of malaria researchers across the continent. Arising from that first conference was the development of MIM and a plan for building the capacity of African researchers through a series of malaria research grants that included both postgraduate training as well as support for applying the acquired skills in undertaking malaria research.

Dr John Reeder, Director of TDR and Prof Fred Binka

Between 1997 and 2007 MIM supported Fifty six (56) research capacity strengthening (RCS) grants through the Special programme for research and training in Tropical diseases (TDR) for an aggregate amount of $12.9 million from 1997 to 2007.  The grants responded to basic gaps in capacity, research tools/commodities/supplies and communication. The latter reflected a major need for researchers to connect with the global malaria research community to learn and share.

These grants under the aegis of the MIM/TDR task force on Malaria RCS addressed the following broad research themes: Pathogenesis and Immunology of Malaria, malaria vector control (including insecticide resistance), Chemotherapy and antimalarial drug resistance, research and development of new tools from natural products, and research to facilitate malaria control interventions. At the Symposium Representatives of the 56 MIM grantees from West, Central, East and Southern Africa shared experiences during and after completion of their MIM grant. These included –

  • Professor Francine Ntoumi, Malaria immunology and pathogenesis research capacity in Central Africa, University Marien Ngouabi, Brazzaville, Republic of Congo
  • Professor Lizette Koekemoer, Malaria vector research capacity in Africa, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Professor Abdoulaye Djimde, Malaria treatment and antimalarial drug resistance in West Africa., Univerity of Bamako, Bamako, Mali
  • Professor Wilfred Mbacham, Malaria treatment and antimalarial drug resistance in Central Africa, Univeristy of Younde 1, Younde, Cameroon
  • Professor Kwadwo Koram, Malaria epidemiology research capacity for elimination and control in Africa, Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research and University of Ghana,  Accra, Ghana

These speakers demonstrate MIM’s and their own specific achievements in following areas:

  • -Capacity built with infrastructure, technology transfer, skill acquisition and graduate students and postdocs trained (including their current status/subsequent contribution to malaria research and (or) control)
  • -Resources/other grants leveraged
  • -Collaborations established and sustained
  • -Contributions to national and regional malaria research capacity, control and elimination.

MIM ‘alumni’ speaking at the Symposium

Since that time those receiving the MIM RCS were able to benefit from further TDR and other malaria research grants and in the process have themselves helped develop new generations of malaria scientists in the universities and institutes where they work. MIM has continued to address the original research gaps. The holding of six subsequent Pan-African conferences.  Grants were also provided for establishing satellite communications systems at three institutions where grantees were based.

Participants in this process who attended the current conference (MIM2018) were able to help achieve on of the objectives of the symposium that is “highlighting the importance of continuous investment in training and monitoring of young African scientists.” The symposium also articulated the unmet and emerging gaps in research capacity of particular relevance to malaria control and elimination.

Visiting the TDR booth to discuss MIM experiences and research opportunities

MIM started and continues as a partnership among Northern and African research organizations with a rotating secretariat. For the past 10 years the MIM secretariat has been based in Africa, and most recently in Cameroon in the Biotechnology Centre of the University of Yaoundé.

Going forward the MIM is evolving into the MIM Society, a broad-based society which will focus among others on organizing regular MIM conferences, promoting research capacity strengthening and foster and unite the different initiative on the continent and worldwide. The MIM society will also invigorate the young African scientist to emerge as outstanding researchers and leaders with ground breaking innovation in science and its applications to development.

The MIM Society will be a global non-profit organization whose mission is to unite all human resources, young and experienced, working on malaria (from researchers over implementers, teachers, producers, funders, policy makers) to strengthen and sustain the capacity of malaria affected countries and to be an umbrella organization for all malaria related initiatives. The MIM Society through its members will guarantee capacity building goals for malaria researchers set by MIM 20 years ago will be carried forward for another 20 years and more.

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