The Business Alliance Against Malaria worked closely with Unitaid, the RBM Partnership, the President’s Malaria Initiative, and the World Health Organization to organize a panel discussion on deploying new tools to fight malaria. The event, entitled “Innovate + Collaborate + Scale = End Malaria,” took place alongside the 72nd World Health Assembly in Geneva, on 22nd May, and successfully attracted more than 150 attendees. Dr. Abdourahmane Diallo, CEO of RBM Partnership to End Malaria, moderated the panel comprising representatives of both the public and the private sectors, namely Ms. Johannah-Joy Phumaphi, Executive Secretary, African Leaders Malaria Alliance (ALMA), Dr. Bala Mohamed Audu, Director of the Malaria Elimination Program, National Malaria Control Programme, Federal Ministry of Health of Nigeria, Dr. Hiwot Solomon, Director of Disease Prevention and Control, Federal Ministry of Health of Ethiopia, Lisa Goldman-Van Nostrand, private sector representative of the RBM Partnership’s Advocacy and Resource Mobilization Partner Committee’s Innovation & Access Workstream, and Caroline Desrousseaux, Co-Chair of BAAM.
Dr. Kenneth Staley, Global Malaria Coordinator, US President’s Malaria Initiative and Mauricio Cysne, Director of External Relations, Unitaid, highlighted in their opening remarks the importance of partnerships in both Unitaid and PMI business models and the need to scale up innovations to make malaria diagnostic tools and treatments available to more people. Dr. Abdourahmane Diallo said that Ministries beyond the Ministry of Health should get involved, including the Ministry of Agriculture, Finance, and Infrastructure. This is important to note as it highlights that the Alliance’s efforts to expand its membership to non-pharmaceutical companies is also aligned with RBM’s perspective. He then introduced the panel with a first question to Ms. Johannah-Joy Phumaphi on innovation.
Ms. Johannah-Joy Phumaphi stressed that innovation is not only about science, but also about making medical products affordable and available to communities, and about making existing products more user-friendly.
The Director of the Malaria Elimination Program in Nigeria added that thanks to a national campaign of mass administration of a seasonal chemoprevention drug to children, Nigeria had been able to limit transmission in a heavily malaria-affected district and noted that a partnership with the Malaria Consortium enabled them to ensure that drugs were administered properly.
Dr. Kwafese, Director of Disease Prevention and Control, Ministry of Health of Ethiopia, said that Ethiopia aims to be malaria-free by 2030, and that the country has been very efficient in implementing malaria prevention programs. She commented that even though they faced a challenge with insecticide-resistant mosquitoes, this was overcome thanks to new chemicals. Today’s challenge is the storage and transportation of liquid insecticide to reach the entire country, presenting logistical difficulties.
Lisa Goldman-Van Nostrand highlighted that it is crucial to have compelling evidence before launching programs, and that creating dialogues with partners outside of the malaria space is desirable, in particular in the HIV and TB space to help see what models have been successful for them.
Continuing on partnerships, Caroline Desrousseaux said that the malaria market is still a risky one, as it is highly dependent on the malaria community to adopt new products developed by the private sector and integrate them into World Health Organization guidelines. Based on this observation, it makes a lot of sense to rely on partners to bring new products to the market. She then called on potential partners that might not be yet engaged in the fight against malaria to join BAAM.
Dr. Abdourahmane Diallo then opened the floor for questions, which focused on the role of prevention and models of cooperation. Ms. Johannah-Joy Phumaphi stressed that for prevention programs to work, communities must own local programs and develop capacity for integrated community case management and community education. She gave the example of ALMA, which has national councils led by key politicians, the private sector, NGOs, community leaders and works with parliamentary committees for malaria at district level to ensure that the “Zero Malaria Starts With Me” program is in the hands of the communities, which makes it well received by the population and therefore more effective.
Dr. Bala Mohamed Audu added that we must increase demand for such services, as he noticed that malaria treatments that require many visits to the hospital are not well followed by the patients, and that consequently demand is not there.
Audience remarks included a call for workshops and projects to foster products and prototypes between BAAM, Unitaid, and others. A representative of WIPO mentioned a coalition of businesses at WIPO focusing on malaria.
Caroline Desrousseaux said that it had been frustrating for the private sector to wait years for its innovations to reach to markets, but that partnerships like the one Vestergaard has with PMI and now BAAM create a sustainable ecosystem for innovation to work. She insisted that malaria is an energetic field where it is possible to innovate. Building on Caroline’s remark, Ms. Johannah-Joy Phumaphi stressed that we need smooth mechanisms to ensure that products are approved by the WHO and make it to markets as quickly as possible.
Dr. Abdourahmane Diallo concluded the panel by emphasizing that strengthening health systems overall is key since patients go to primary healthcare providers to be diagnosed, making the call for Universal Health Coverage very relevant for malaria.
Dr. Pedro L. Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme, recognized that the tools we have are not perfect, and that preventive actions can be heavy to sustain. He concluded that innovation is essential if we want to move forward. He closed the event by saying that the launch of the GSK malaria vaccine was made possible thanks to a massive partnership that involved an extensive research network in Africa and then implementation by Unitaid, the Global Fund, and GAVI for the pilot phase.
In conclusion, the event successfully highlighted examples of partnerships between the private and the public sector and made the case that the private sector has a central role to play in the fight against malaria. Again, we want to extend a big thank you to our BAAM-members Caroline Desrousseaux and Co-Chair Lisa Goldman-Van Nostrand for representing the Alliance and speaking about the importance of private sector innovations – both in health products, operating practices, and delivery models – to the fight against malaria.