Africom, Partners Mark World Malaria Day Sharing Best Practices
By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Olufemi A. Owolabi
U.S. Africa Command
STUTTGART, Germany, April 24, 2013 U.S. representatives, along with experts in malaria programs and chiefs of medical services from eight nations of the Economic Community of West Africa are commemorating World Malaria Day by sharing knowledge, experiences and best practices in confronting the malaria-bearing mosquito.
The meeting of the West Africa Malaria Task Force kicked off today in Accra, Ghana. It continues tomorrow, the World Health Organization’s annual observance of World Malaria Day, and runs through April 26.
Medical and military representatives from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo are participating in the program, sponsored by the U.S. Armed Forces Health Center.
“We are excited about partnering with the eight African nations who are participating,” said Navy Capt. (Dr.) David K. Weiss, command surgeon for U.S. Africa Command. “We’ll share best practices about how to treat malaria, which adversely impacts all of our forces in West Africa. This is a great opportunity for all of us, and I truly believe that we are stronger together as partners.”
The event is a regional African initiative, supported by Africom. The goal, officials said, is to develop solutions to malaria challenges. Africom personnel who specialize in malaria will partner with Africans and will help facilitate ideas and strategy sessions in support of the task force.
“The task force is their idea,” said Dr. Refaat Hanna, Africom epidemiologist and a public health specialist with the command surgeon’s office. “The intent is to discuss and share results of the military malaria program gaps and leverage resources available through the [U.S.] President’s Malaria Initiative in West Africa.”
PMI is a five-year, $1.2 billion expansion of U.S. government resources to reduce the impact of malaria and to help address poverty in Africa.
“Malaria is the leading cause of death in Africa,” Hanna said. “Ninety percent of worldwide malaria cases are diagnosed in sub-Saharan Africa. It has a great impact on the health and productivity of Africans. It is the most common reason for hospital visits, with most patients being children and pregnant women.”
The engagements aim to enhance civilian-to-military cooperation in African partner countries and leverage resources from other organizations in support of the partner country, said Michael Hryshchyshyn, chief of Africom’s humanitarian and health activities branch.
“The establishment of the West Africa Malaria Task Force helps fulfill both of these goals,” he said. “This task force reinforces and benefits from other programs to include HIV/AIDS, disaster preparedness, pandemic influenza and humanitarian assistance.”
Representatives of five East African militaries participating in an Africom-hosted symposium in 2011 came up with the idea of a multinational Malaria Task Force in East Africa to address their common malaria challenges. That, in turn, prompted the western region to start its first West Africa Malaria Task Force.
Weiss called this week’s meeting a valuable opportunity for information sharing.
“The hope is we can learn from each other,” he said. “This program is about Africans learning from each other on how they can develop solutions that address the impact of this devastating disease.”
By helping African militaries maintain the health of their forces, it also supports Africom’s goal of building African capacity and capabilities, Hanna said.
The U.S. Army Medical Research Unit in Kenya has been helping the African continent to combat malaria since 1973, he noted. It coordinates operations between Africom, the U.S. interagency, and numerous Kenyan ministries.