The Malaria Policy Advisory Group (MPAG) is an independent body that provides policy advice to the World Health Organization (WHO) on matters relating to malaria control and elimination. MPAG met earlier this month, convening some of the world’s leading experts on malaria to progress the most current malaria policy agendas. MPAG is guided by several core principles.¹
- Country ownership and leadership, with involvement and participation of communities, are essential to accelerating progress.
- All countries can accelerate efforts towards elimination through combinations of interventions tailored to local contexts.
- Improve impact by using data to stratify and tailor malaria interventions to the local context.
- Equity in access to quality health services, especially for the populations experiencing. disadvantage, discrimination and exclusion, is essential.
- Innovation in interventions will enable countries to maximize their progression along the path to elimination.
- A resilient health system underpins the overall success of the malaria response.
During the meeting, discussions stressed the need for malaria actors to maintain a problem-solving mind-set that is data driven, adaptable, acknowledging of contextual elements and embracing of innovation. One approach outlined by MPAG is to ‘rethink malaria’ in terms of a socio-economic challenge in need of broader definitions, framework arrangements and partnerships, and as a societal problem of development rather than a standalone medical issue. Practical solutions include enhancing both domestic resource mobilisation for malaria control and domestic research capacities; empowering endemic countries to lead the malaria response and investing in training health workers at national, regional and community levels.
Discussions also highlighted the need for the global malaria community to work collectively towards common goals such as expanding the implementation of malaria prevention and treatment methods; for investment in a comprehensive, health systems approach to malaria; and to mainstream a multi-sectoral response that galvanises public, private and non-health actors. In addition, recognition of the importance of African leadership in the fight against malaria with regard to reducing coverage gaps that have been and continue to be exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Malaria Consortium supports this vision. Working alongside national malaria programmes and ministries of health, we bring technical expertise and experiential learning to the design and implementation of solutions aimed at reducing the disease burden of malaria; strengthening data-informed decision-making and digital approaches to community engagement; support health sector resilience to achieve Universal Health Coverage by 2030; and influence policy and practice at national and global levels. In practice, this meant that in 2020 we reached more than 12 million children with our seasonal malaria chemoprevention programme and we aim to reach 20 million children in 2021. We have also invested heavily in increasing our digital capabilities, like our upSCALE platform, demonstrating our capacity to take interventions from proof of concept to scale; and we are using our recently awarded Independent Research Organisation status to continue delivering innovative, impactful solutions for all those impacted by malaria.
Disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, followed by a global collaborative response present an opportunity to develop new strategies and to ‘rethink’ approaches to malaria burden reduction. This is not without challenges – we know that even before the pandemic, progress in reducing malaria cases and deaths was starting to plateau.² We also know that while malaria treatments and services were not hit as hard by the pandemic as other diseases like HIV and tuberculosis, globally there is still huge effort and commitment needed if we are to meet the 2030 targets. In summarising the path forward, Arantxa Roca, Head of Surveillance, Monitoring & Evaluation at Malaria Consortium and a member of MPAG, stated:
“As we gradually rebuild from the COVID-19 pandemic it is more important than ever that the global malaria community collaborates to address the gaps in malaria services and get back on track. Malaria Consortium actively engages in the MPAG meetings by contributing to the strategic guidance dialogue; sharing technical expertise and assistance experiences gained from implementing programmes.”
² World Health Organization, World Malaria Report 2020 (https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240015791)
³ The Global Fund, Results Report 2021 (https://www.theglobalfund.org/en/results/#malaria