UN “Nothing but Nets Champion Conference”: Rolling back the Burden of Disease from Malaria

      Three weeks ago, Nothing but Nets, a non-profit organization that sends bed nets to Sub-Saharan Africa, and the UN Foundation, a major player on the global stage for malaria funding, hosted an advocacy conference in Washington D.C. Discussed was the global progress in malaria prevention, in addition to the next steps we must take to further reduce the incidence of the disease. According to the World Malaria Report 2015, there are still 2.9 million child deaths due to malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa.1 At the conference, keynote speakers, who all voiced their passion to help end malaria, ranged from Thon Chol, a refugee from South Sudan, to Congresswoman Judy Chu, all the way to soccer star Abby Wambach. The “Champions Conference” focused around mobilizing individuals in order to engage communities around the United States to advocate for malaria funding under the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. Also discussed were current challenges and successes in the field.  

            CHMI profiles 40 programs that deal specifically with malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa and utilize bed nets as one of their primary interventions. The target demographics for many of these programs are children under 5 and women (particularly pregnant women), as they are the most affected by the disease.  One such initiative, PSI/Tanzania, a CHMI Plus Silver program, works with the Tanzanian Ministry of Health to develop a high-volume model for the free distribution of insecticide-treated nets.

            PSI/Togo Long Lasting Insecticide-treated Nets Cross Subsidization Program is another initiative that distributes insecticide-treated nets to low-income mothers and pregnant women under a cross-subsidization model. Over 30,000 nets are given out yearly to target populations in Togo.      

            In Ghana, where 100 percent of the population is at risk for contracting malaria, Mobilize Against Malaria (MAM), an initiative of FHI 360, trains Licensed Chemical Sellers to recognize malaria symptoms, dispense Artemisinin Combination Therapy (ACT) medications, and encourages the promotion of the use of treated nets for pregnant mothers and children. Over 60,000 people were reached through the initiative and the Ghana Ministry of Health is actively integrating the MAM model into its health sector.

Another relevant issue discussed at the “Champions Conference” was the need to address malaria in refugee camps across Sub-Saharan Africa. Thon Chol, a South Sudanese refugee, now a U.S. citizen, said “Refugee camps are supposed to be temporary” but that some of his friends have been there the last 20 years. He mentioned that he caught malaria multiple times while in camps because once the disease is there it “spreads like wildfire”. Chol emphasized the intricate economic links the burden of malaria has on a new country such as South Sudan and called for people to become “part of [the] humanity campaign”.

While the CHMI database does not contain any programs wholly devoted to the specific incidence of malaria in refugee camps, there are organizations that have initiatives to address this growing public health issue. The South Sudan Physician’s Organization (SSPO) has developed a public-private partnership with the South Sudan Ministry of Health, the Government of Jonglei State, and Jonglei Health Services in order to address the needs of South Sudanese citizens. The main initiative SSPO has taken is providing primary care for internally displaced people within refugee camps, including providing medication for malaria.

The “Nothing but Nets Champion Conference” was an educational three days that emphasized the continued necessity of bed net use in malaria prevention programs, innovations in the field to address complex issues such as malaria incidence in refugee camps, and to reflect on the immense progress that has been made in the last two decades. CHMI has worked and will continue to work to analyze trends in which the private sector is becoming involved in malaria prevention and treatment, in addition to highlighting programs that use health market innovations and new ideas to works towards malaria control and, hopefully in the near future, eradication.