I am humbled by having been offered the role of Chair of Malaria Partners International (MPI). I am honored and privileged to take office beginning July 1.
I am honored because of the long history of outstanding leaders who have preceded me: our founder, Nancy Osborne, who conceived of MPI (then Rotarian Malaria Partners) and led its creation; Linda Cheever, Chair when I first joined the Board in 2018 and who led as we forged our relationship with the Gates Foundation; Jeff Pritchard, who led as we formed our partnership with the Gates Foundation and World Vision to apply to Rotary International’s first Program of Scale grant; outgoing Chair Adriana Lanting, who led as we built and executed Partners for a Malaria-Free Zambia (PMFZ) with Rotary International, the Gates Foundation, and World Vision; and so many others who have contributed so much along the way.
I am privileged because I am firmly convinced this is the most exciting time in the fight against malaria since the introduction of modern synthetic insecticides in the 1940s. The advent of effective vaccines—RTS,S/AS01 today, R21/Matrix-M soon, and many others sure to come—gives us powerful new weapons against Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite that causes the deadliest form of malaria. RTS,S has been shown to reduce severe malaria cases in children by up to 45%, and R21 has demonstrated up to 77% efficacy among children. No vaccine is perfect, but these vaccines have the potential to save the lives of tens or even hundreds of thousands of children in sub-Saharan Africa each year.
The current generation of malaria vaccines—and those forecast for the near future—are different than most of the vaccines those of us in the developed world have come to know. They are not 80–90% (or more) effective, but instead reduce (but do not eliminate) the incidence of severe malaria. They do not require one shot, or perhaps one shot plus a booster, but instead three or four shots delivered over a period of 10–14 months. They require cold storage, which can be a challenge in remote settings. Most importantly, they are meant to be delivered not on their own, but as part of comprehensive health interventions, including malaria preventive actions such as rapid diagnostic testing (RDT), seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC), intermittent preventive treatment during pregnancy (IPTp), insecticide-treated nets (ITNs), indoor residual spraying (IRS) and new forms of vector (mosquito) control; as well as non-malaria interventions such as standard childhood vaccinations and improved diagnostic testing for alternative causes of fever.
We should not underestimate the scale of this work. 40 million children were born in sub-Saharan Africa in 2022. With a population of 1.1 billion, sub-Saharan Africa has approximately 165 million homes. Reaching 40 million children three or four times in their first two years of life, and 165 million homes on a regular basis, is a mammoth undertaking.
One way to tackle a population health challenge of this scale is through community health workers (CHWs). Scientific evidence for the ability of CHWs to improve population health has been described as incontrovertible. We have seen this ourselves—PMFZ is based on training CHWs who volunteer to improve health in their local communities, and they have achieved phenomenal results. For example, in the year preceding April 2023, out of approximately 490,000 cases of malaria diagnosed by our CHWs in Zambia, all but about 5,000 of the cases were able to be treated by those CHWs locally, without referral to a hospital.
We can scale up the CHW model across sub-Saharan Africa, but doing so will require hundreds of thousands of CHWs across dozens of countries. This is where Rotary Clubs and MPI come in. The 1.4 million Rotary members around the world—and Africa is one of Rotary’s fastest-growing regions—are passionate about service and best know their communities. MPI seeks to gain experience and expertise in countries across sub-Saharan Africa: first by building relationships with Rotary members and their clubs; then by working with those members and clubs to fund small grants and measure their impact; and ultimately by creating permanent, funded affiliate organizations, such as Malaria Partners Zambia, Malaria Partners Uganda, and most recently Malaria Partners West Africa. Our affiliate organization in Zambia, led by Martha Lungu, provided the local presence and proficiency that helped win Rotary International’s first Program of Scale award, creating the $6 million multi-year program that is PMFZ. We will continue expanding this model to countries across sub-Saharan Africa, reaching more households and more children at risk of sickness or death from malaria.
To those of you who have helped us along the way—our board members and ambassadors; our Executive Director, Jenny Andrews and professional staff; our generous donors; Rotary International, the Gates Foundation, and other non-profit organizations; Rotary Zone, District, and Club leaders and Rotary members around the world; our fellow Rotary-affiliated organizations fighting malaria, including RAM-Global and RAWCS-RAM-Australia; and our CHWs who hike and bike every day, home to home, village to village, rain or shine, giving in ways that cannot be measured in mere numbers—I cannot begin to thank you enough.
I consider MPI and our partners, supporters, affiliates, and friends as part of the army in the war against malaria. To all of you, I say in candor that we have a tough fight ahead of us. We are not on the precipice of ending malaria. We have years of work ahead, and there will be not only many victories but a few inevitable defeats along the way. But to those of you on the front lines, I say this: you are gaining ground, and there are new weapons on the way. This is an exciting time. And from the bottom of my heart, I believe that one day, we will all be able to say that we fought the good fight, the most just of all possible wars, and we helped end one of the greatest enemies in the history of humanity.
On September 8th, 2023, the Rotary International President Gordon McInally announced that Rotary and its partners World Vision and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation will be implementing the Rotary Healthy Communities Challenge which will build on the successes of the Partners for a Malaria-Free Zambia project and scale that work to 3 other countries.
Malaria Partners West Africa has been engaging with PATH and The Gambia’s Ministry of Health and National Malaria Control Program (NMCP) to design a new initiative aimed at strengthening community case-based surveillance for malaria in the North Bank Regions of The Gambia.
By Peter Mubanga Ng’andu – Rotaract Club of Lusaka
As a Project Management & M&E professional, I believe in data driven interventions and that’s why when an opportunity to volunteer in Data Quality Audits (DQA) emerged, I gladly took it in the spirit of service above self.
Rotary International President, Gordon McInally, announced this weekend that, in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and World Vision, Rotary is launching the Rotary Healthy Communities Challenge. This initiative will provide $30 million to combat...
Pictured above: Malaria testing in Luzira village On August 20th, Rotarians in Yumbe, Uganda commemorated World Mosquito Day by conducting malaria testing and treatment in Machangana village. Out of the 231 individuals tested for malaria, 49 were found to be positive...
Malaria Partners Uganda engaged with Rotary District 9213 Presidents from the Eastern part of Uganda, for a training and mapping meeting on June 16th to address the currently high burden of malaria in the Eastern part of the country and to understand the critical role...