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Malaria Group Seeks Permanent Home In Cameroon 

By Leocadia Bongben

An international alliance of malaria scientists, whose secretariat has roved around the planet until now, is planning to settle down permanently in Yaounde. The Multilateral Initiative for Malaria (MIM), established in 1997, was previously headquartered in London, Washington, Stockholm and Dar-es-Salaam.

Since January, its home has been at the Biotechnology Centre of the University of Yaounde, and MIM officials say that is where it will probably stay. MIM has a range of activities, from building up research capacity in Africa and seeking funding to organise a major annual malaria conference. But, until now, it has been a loose organisation whose vision changed depending on the organisation that hosted it.

A permanent home could put the organisation on more solid legal footing, says malaria scientist, Prof. Wilfred Mbacham, the new Executive Director of the MIM secretariat. It could also make MIM more interesting for donors and partners, such as pharmaceutical companies. MIM is also looking for a new legal status, adds Peter De Vries of the Academic Medical Centre in Amsterdam, who is the secretariat’s Vice-Chair.

It could become a foundation or a society, "or a mix between those two," De Vries proposes.
Cameroon is a good base for MIM because it is one of the countries where malaria research – including the work led by Prof. Mbacham – is flourishing, says De Vries. More so, "They are heading the new generation of malaria researchers in Africa," he adds. Besides, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania have strong malaria research communities too, De Vries says.

With these African research communities, he hopes that the younger generation of African malaria scientists will develop their own research agenda. They need to take charge, he says, and own the research, given that malaria is mostly an African disease. This is where MIM would be beneficial in strengthening research in Africa as one of its main objectives.

Optimistic, De Vries foresees that in five years, “MIM would have created opportunities for research – the first global society of members focusing on one disease, difficult it will be, but it will be able to connect government and the African Union,” he projects. It is in this vein that collaboration would enable African scientists to tackle blind spots in malaria research in Africa, says Mbacham.

However, he says there are many issues still to explore: understanding the lifecycle of the malaria parasite, how it interacts with other parasites and how it reacts to climate change, how malaria drugs are taken up and broken down by the human body, how they interact with drugs for other diseases and, the interaction of malaria with non-infectious diseases.

Cameroon’s main contributions, so far, says Mbacham, are clinical trials to study the efficacy and safety of drugs and exploring the use of traditional herbs for treatment of malaria and against fever. But huge investments are required in transforming or turning these findings into drugs.

A lurking and bigger challenge for MIM would still remains, translating research into policies – the biggest public health problem. This is the challenge the trio at the head of MIM secretariat; Prof. Rose Leke, Prof. Peter de Vries and the Director, Prof. Wilfred Mbacham, have to tackle.

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