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Eight experts on what inspires them to fight malaria

April 21, 2022 by PATH

PATH malaria experts weigh in on what it will take to accelerate elimination—and what excites them about their work.

Marie-Reine Rutagwera, Strategic Information Advisor, PAMO Plus  Photo: PATH/Todd Jennings.

Marie-Reine Rutagwera, Strategic Information Advisor, PAMO Plus project, Zambia. Photo: PATH/Todd Jennings.

At PATH, determined, experienced, and passionate leaders guide our malaria programs. Whether evaluating new vector control tools, improving diagnostics, accelerating the use of data and digital tools for decision-making, or communicating and disseminating learnings from these innovative approaches, these leaders span locations and disciplines but share the common goal of eliminating the disease. Here are a few of our leaders from across the spectrum of PATH’s malaria work. They share their views on progress in the fight against malaria, what excites them about their work, and what is needed to accelerate progress toward elimination.

Yakou Dieye, MD, West Africa Malaria Regional Director, Malaria and Neglected Tropical Diseases

Photo: Khalilus Photography

Photo: Khalilus Photography.

From an early age, Yakou Dieye, MD, understood the toll malaria can take on one’s health. Losing his sister—who died of severe malaria when he was a child—inspired Dr. Dieye to pursue a career in infectious diseases. Over the course of an academic and professional career specializing in malaria, he has also come to know the extensive impact the disease has on a country’s ability to prosper.

Among his many duties, Dr. Dieye coordinates a broad partnership of actors, spanning from the environment sector to the broader economic sector, where malaria-related absenteeism from work affects economic performance. “What I want to avoid is making the fight against malaria a vertical one,” Dr. Dieye says. “Malaria control must be integrated not only intersectorally, but also multisectorally with other sectors. Malaria is a development problem, not a health problem alone.”

“Malaria is a development problem, not a health problem alone.”
— Yakou Dieye, MD

Marie-Reine Rutagwera, Strategic Information Advisor, PAMO Plus project, Zambia

MarieReine.jpg

Photo: PATH.

“Data is the backbone of any project,” says Marie-Reine, “and it needs to be well organized in order to be meaningful to an audience.” As Strategic Information Advisor for the US President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) Program for the Advancement of Malaria Outcomes (PAMO) Plus project in Zambia, Marie-Reine works to provide technical direction that strengthens data collection, quality, analysis, visualization, and reporting for an audience that includes PMI, PAMO Plus, the National Malaria Elimination Programme, and other malaria stakeholders. That audience then uses the data to make informed, evidence-based decisions.

Community health workers (CHWs) are often the crucial gatherers of these data. “I greatly enjoy working with community health worker data to showcase the fantastic work they do in their communities and, through data, advocate for them so they can be provided with commodities to make their work easier,” says Marie-Reine, who relishes when CHWs are an audience, too. “It makes me happy to see the smiles of CHWs when sharing feedback, discussing their data, and explaining how they fit in the bigger picture of malaria elimination.”

“I greatly enjoy working with community health worker data to showcase the fantastic work they do in their communities and—through data—advocate for them so they can be provided with commodities to make their work easier.”
— Marie-Reine Rutagwera

Ayele Woldehana, MD, Chief of Party, PMI Surveillance for Malaria Elimination project, Ethiopia

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Photo: Ayele Woldehana.

“In my opinion, active surveillance—going into the community to find and treat malaria rather than waiting for a patient to come to a health facility—is the most important part of malaria elimination.”
— Ayele Woldehana, MD

When he joined PATH in March 2022, Ayele Woldehana, MD, brought with him 35 years of experience in Ethiopia’s health system that includes managing malaria surveillance–related work. Now, as Chief of Party of the PMI Surveillance for Malaria Elimination project (a PATH and Addis Continental Institute of Public Health collaboration), Dr. Woldehana oversees the implementation of the project’s efforts to improve malaria surveillance and response mechanisms in Ethiopia.

To Dr. Woldehana, disease surveillance is crucial because the core malaria interventions employed today (e.g., vector control, case management, and social and behavior change) are dependent on the case identification and case and foci investigations that are part of malaria surveillance work.

“In my opinion, active surveillance—going into the community to find and treat malaria rather than waiting for a patient to come to a health facility—is the most important part of malaria elimination,” he says. “It minimizes the risk of severe and complicated malaria in the individual. It is also very satisfying work as it involves engaging the community.”

Rova Ratsimandisa, MD, Malaria Program Lead, Democratic Republic of the Congo

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Photo: PATH.

In Kinshasa, Rova Ratsimandisa, MD, oversees projects in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) under PATH’s Malaria Control and Elimination Partnership in Africa, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Joining PATH in February 2022, Dr. Ratsimandisa manages PATH’s partnership with the DRC’s National Malaria Control Program and Ministry of Health, as well as PATH’s collaboration with other organizations in the malaria space. Dr. Ratsimandisa previously spent 12 years in Madagascar and South Sudan, implementing all aspects of their national malaria strategic plans, and is looking forward to applying her experience to the DRC.

“It is exciting to know that as part of our work in the DRC, we will be mapping the country’s needs to identify gaps and implement interventions to fill those gaps,” says Dr. Ratsimandisa. “These include surveillance and monitoring systems that will help communities that have been historically hard to reach.”

“It is exciting to know that as part of our work in the DRC, we will be mapping the country’s needs to identify gaps and implement interventions to fill those gaps.”
— Rova Ratsimandisa, MD

Ruth Wanjala, Senior Communications Officer, Center for Vaccine Innovation and Access, Kenya

Ruth Wanjala—WMD 2022. Photo: Brandshack.

Photo: Brandshack.

In October 2021, RTS,S/AS01 became the first malaria vaccine recommended by the World Health Organization in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high Plasmodium falciparum malaria transmission.

In Kenya, where pilot implementation of the vaccine took place, Ruth worked with the Ministry of Health and partners to develop an evidence-based communications plan in the lead-up to the launch. Ruth also organized communications trainings for vaccine spokespersons, led the development of informational materials, arranged media engagement with local and international journalists, and conducted stakeholder engagement with different opinion leaders and community members.

“Investing in communications at the earliest possible opportunity pays off. There is more awareness, cohesion, more allies, and less resistance across all stakeholders, leading to higher uptake of any new intervention—especially vaccines, given the current increase in vaccine hesitancy globally,” Ruth says. “It is important to sustain communication efforts even after tools are implemented and to continue documenting lessons for the future.”

“Investing in communications at the earliest possible opportunity pays off...It is important to sustain communication efforts even after tools are implemented and to continue documenting lessons for the future.”
— Ruth Wanjala

Jamil Barton, Latin America Regional Advisor, Market Dynamics

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Photo: Diana Perez.

Jamil works with ministries of health, partner organizations, and the private sector in Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, and Peru to give communities in these countries greater access to high-quality malaria case management.

Through a healthy mix of strategic planning, implementation, and operational support for studies, policy development, and technical analyses, Jamil partners with other organizations in the region to provide market analytics and readiness planning for new tools and approaches that address pressing malaria issues—particularly Plasmodium vivax malaria. But relationships with partners in the region are the engine of this work, and Jamil takes great satisfaction in collaboration.

“I spend every day working with a range of partners,” he says. “Without question, the best part of the job are these collaborations, and knowing that PATH’s coordinated, inclusive approach is not only the source of the best ideas and innovations in global health, but also continues to generate real impact toward malaria elimination.”

“Without question, the best part of the job are these collaborations, and knowing that PATH’s coordinated, inclusive approach...continues to generate real impact toward malaria elimination.”
— Jamil Barton

Sampa Pal, PhD, Scientific Program Officer, Diagnostics

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Photo: Sampa Pal.

In 2021, SD BIOSENSOR’s STANDARD™ G6PD Test received regulatory approval from Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration, marking the culmination of years of collaboration between PATH Diagnostics and SD BIOSENSOR. As the technical lead of the project, Sampa Pal, PhD, who is based in the United States, confirmed the feasibility of the test at an early stage of development and took it through further development stages and clinical studies.

The point-of-care test is the first for glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) deficiency that can support safe access to the currently available drugs that treat P. vivax malaria. Dr. Pal says, “The approval of the G6PD test is a milestone for malaria case management.” She adds: “By furthering the safe use of primaquine and tafenoquine, it expands malaria treatment possibilities at primary health care facilities, dispensaries, and through community health care workers.” Country partners are currently evaluating the feasibility of integrating the test into national malaria case management policies and practices in Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia.

“The approval of the G6PD test is a milestone for malaria case management.”
— Sampa Pal, PhD

Nguyen To Nhu, PhD, Program Director, Epidemic Preparedness and Response, and National Malaria Control Program, Vietnam

Nguyễn To Nhu. Photo: PATH.

Photo: PATH.

Over the course of her 24-year career managing and implementing infectious disease programs in Vietnam, Nguyen To Nhu, PhD, has seen the country make remarkable strides against communicable diseases. For the past two years, she has overseen the implementation of PATH’s malaria projects in Vietnam, including a project that aims to leverage public health emergency operations centers to accelerate malaria elimination by integrating a vertical malaria system into mainstream public health systems.

As the primary point of contact with the Ministry of Health and its related departments, she also leads PATH’s advocacy and support for the National Malaria Control Program’s scale-up and implementation of G6PD testing to help ensure medication is properly prescribed for P. vivax malaria without fear of treatment complications. This is the basis for the introduction of tafenoquine to Vietnam—the one-dose radical cure P. vivax malaria treatment drug. This, she hopes, will play a major role in moving Vietnam closer to its goal of malaria elimination.

“With the significant decline in malaria cases, Vietnam is well positioned to possibly become the first malaria-free country in the Mekong by 2027, three years earlier than the target timelines,” says Dr. Nhu. “To be one of the key partners supporting the National Malaria Control Program during this critical period of accelerating malaria elimination is such a privilege for the PATH team in Vietnam.”

“To be one of the key partners supporting the National Malaria Control Program during this critical period of accelerating malaria elimination is such a privilege for the PATH team in Vietnam.”
— Nguyen To Nhu, PhD

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