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“Rethinking Malaria” fora uphold a longstanding academic tradition of convening multidisciplinary perspectives from diverse stakeholders in a neutral and inclusive learning environment. Following a yearlong global engagement, findings from “Rethinking Malaria in the Context of COVID-19” were presented at global webinar on September 1, 2021 (watch) followed by a special 2-day webinar featuring presentations from Working Groups on September 28–29, 2021 (coming soon!).

 

Overview

We need a global effort to rethink malaria, that takes into account the perspectives of those at the front line. Progress in reducing the malaria burden in the world has plateaued in the last few years, after fifteen years of progressive reductions which resulted in an overall 50% reduction in burden and in deaths. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has further threatened the bold ambition of the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016–2030.

COVID-19 has created new challenges for both human and financial resources and the delivery of essential malaria services. In short, it is time to take stock—what lessons have we learned from our earlier success that apply to our current context and where have our approaches fallen short? What are the most important next steps in addressing global malaria?

To gain a better understanding of these issues, Harvard University’s Defeating Malaria: From the Genes to the Globe Initiative initiated global engagement focused on “Rethinking Malaria in the Context of COVID–19” in partnership with the World Health Organization and partner institutions around the world. A key goal of “Rethinking Malaria” is to push beyond conventional thinking to question fundamental assumptions and approaches, with a focus on bold new ideas to achieve real-world progress.

This effort incorporates learnings from the growing body of evidence—including the Malaria Eradication Research Agenda (malERA) Refresh, World Malaria Report 2020, WHO Strategic Advisory Group on Malaria Eradication (SAGme), Lancet Commission on Malaria Eradication, etc.—to address the plateau to control and eradicate malaria in Africa.

 
Goal & Objectives

Infectious diseases are once again at the forefront of global health, as is the recognition they can have huge and long-lasting economic and social impacts

Goal & Objectives

The goal of “Rethinking Malaria in the Context of COVID–19” global engagement is to identify novel ‘game-changing’ approaches to the malaria crisis with the following objectives:

  • To propose new strategies for malaria governance and financing at the global, national, and district/community levels;
  • To identify opportunities for maximizing impact with existing tools and best practices through strengthened implementation;
  • To highlight areas where new technology and operational innovation (from COVID–19 learnings and beyond) can catalyze progress toward malaria eradication and elimination; and
  • To identify essential gaps in training and capacity building to continue innovation.
 

Working Groups & Findings

Under the leadership of Chair, Professor Rose Leke of the University of Yaoundé and co-Chair, Professor Dyann Wirth of Harvard University, three Working Groups were organized to achieve the goal and objectives of the “Rethinking Malaria in the Context of COVID–19” global engagement. In addition to establishing regular meetings with Working Groups and an External Advisory Committee, Leke and Wirth convened a small Steering Committee to track progress, provide input, and plan public webinars. This group included Dr Pedro Alonso, Director of WHO’s GMP; Carmen Mejia, Executive Director, Harvard’s Defeating Malaria Initiative; Professor Michael Reich, Emeritus at the Harvard Chan; and Dr Alastair Robb, Senior Advisor to the WHO/GMP.

As part of the yearlong global engagement, Working Groups consulted with over 200 global stakeholders—with a focus on those working on the front lines and those most affected by the disease—to consider malaria challenges and opportunities in the context of COVID–19 in Africa. Guiding questions across the Working Group included, but were not limited to: (1) Who is deciding? (e.g., global financing decision-making); (2) How do we more effectively—and more equitably—deliver services universally (everyone, but not everything)? and (3) What is the current and necessary capacity to solve problems at the country-level?

As part of this “Rethinking Malaria” effort, the WHO’s Global Malaria Programme coordinated a regional consultative process in June 2021, which also began with the continent with the highest burden of malaria.

Findings from the “Rethinking Malaria in the Context of COVID–19” global engagement are available via Harvard’s central, open-access research repository (here with links to individual papers below) and will also be published in a peer-review journal in the coming month.

 

Advisory Committee & Sponsors

A small research staff supports this effort. An external Advisory Committee composed of experts and thought leaders provides feedback on the global public good deliverables for the “Rethinking Malaria in the Context of COVID–19.”

This “Rethinking Malaria” global engagement is financially sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the J.C. Flowers Foundation, Harvard University’s Defeating Malaria: From the Genes to the Globe Initiative, and the Takemi Program in International Health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.