Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative gains recognition at the South African medical Research Council's 5th Annual Malaria Research Conference
On July 30 to August 1, 2019 the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Office of Malaria Research hosted the 5th Annual Malaria Research Conference at the University of Pretoria’s Future Africa Campus. The theme of this year’s conference, “Cooperation for Elimination,” is at the heart of the malaria elimination activities carried out by The Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative of the J.C. Flowers Foundation (IFCBMI). Presenter and attendee disciplines varied widely, including parasitology, epidemiology, global health economics, political and organizational leadership, and community mobilization/activism, among others. IFCBMI represented the work of its team members and program communities with two oral presentations, four poster presentations, and panel discussion contributions. Alexandra Gordon, Program Officer for IFCBMI, won the award of “Best Poster of the 5th Annual Malaria Research Conference, for her poster titled: “Data for Action: How standardized, community-based data collection and action planning can inform program prioritization and advocacy efforts.”
Constance Njovu, IFCBMI Regional Coordinator, presented on Social and Behavioral Change Communication (SBCC) in the context of malaria elimination. “There is no successful malaria elimination intervention without community-driven Social and Behavioral Change Communication,” Njovu explained. To illustrate this, Njovu presented an example of a successful community-driven SBCC initiative in Zambia where community health workers consulted traditional leaders to develop and deliver messaging to address the lack of acceptance of community-based malaria testing. Messaging centered on dispelling myths and promoting community health, and was delivered in ways that the community preferred (e.g. community meetings and church services). Because the community trusted the traditional leaders’ messages and authority, the community grew to accept community-based blood testing for malaria.
Emilia Wime, IFCBMI Angola Focal Point, presented on how providing malaria endemic communities with the skills and resources needed to eliminate the disease produces results beyond malaria. She explained that TKMI malaria elimination efforts in Angola’s Cunene Province, which aim to support the acceptance and use of long-lasting insecticidal nets (LLINs), indoor residual spraying (IRS), and early testing for malaria, contribute to high malaria knowledge, acceptance of IRS, and bed net usage. Beyond these positive malaria results, Wime explained “communities are seeing a larger transformation in themselves because they are taking a leadership role in these activities.” Wime shared a testimony from a community member named Linea, who reported feeling a revived hope for her community and a sense of pride for her work as a community malaria volunteer. In addition to her malaria skills, she has been given an esteemed community-wide role, and has felt that her identity has changed from someone invisible to someone with status and responsibility.
The IFCBMI Team also gave four poster presentations. João Baptista Nelo, IFCBMI Provincial Coordinator in Angola’s Cuando Cubango Province, presented on the community engagement methodology being employed in Cuando Cubango Province. In partnership with the Council of Christian Churches in Angola, IFCBMI mobilized a network of Community Malaria Elimination Committees in four municipalities. These committees take on a leadership role for the ongoing effort to promote successful malaria interventions, identify barriers to success, and identify and implement appropriate solutions. Ndakudana Hamukwaya, Northern Program Officer of the Namibia Anglican Community Development Organization, presented on how community-driven SBCC approaches that were tailored to the specific barriers to malaria elimination in the Ohangwena and Omusati regions of Namibia strengthened community engagement and action. João Lino Rafael, Angola Operations Manager, presented on a collaboration between communities and stakeholders in Calai, Angola and Rundu, Namibia to address the issue of cross border treatment seeking at Rundu State Hospital. The award-winning poster of Alexandra Gordon, Program Officer, described a monitoring and action plan developed by IFCBMI to facilitate community-informed programmatic decision-making. As part of this process, program monitoring data collected in February and March 2019 were shared with stakeholders at the community and regional levels through guided discussions that facilitated deeper community-based analysis, resulting in detailed action plans.
To wrap up the conference, Rebecca Vander Meulen, Executive Director of the J.C. Flowers Foundation, participated in a panel discussion entitled “Translating Research into Policy.” Alongside Dr. John Chimumbwa, newly appointed Executive Director of the SADC Malaria Elimination 8 Secretariat, and four other panelists, Vander Meulen discussed how to translate important research and sound policy into the practical reality of malaria on the ground. Vander Meulen emphasized the importance of recognizing all of the experts who must work together for malaria elimination—both the scientists and the community members living in malaria-endemic communities. Just as a parasitologist is an expert in Plasmodium falciparum, a mother is an expert in the dynamics of her own community and the care of her children. The only way we will attain malaria elimination is if we practice “Cooperation for Elimination” and value the expertise of the mother who chooses to put her child to sleep under a net as complementary to the expertise of scientists and public health professionals.