West Africa Malaria Task Force Gets Going

A child dies every minute from malaria.
A child dies every minute from malaria.

By Technical Sergeant Olufemi A. Owolabi
U.S. Africa Command
Stuttgart, Germany,
April 23, 2013

During a symposium hosted by U.S. Africa Command in 2011, five East African nations’ militaries came up with an idea to address their common malaria challenges together. The idea gave birth to a multinational Malaria Task Force in East Africa.

That idea prompted countries further west to start their West Africa Malaria Task Force.

On April 24, U.S. representatives, experts in malaria programs and chiefs of medical services from eight nations of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will come together to share knowledge, experiences and best practices during a three-day meeting of the West Africa Malaria Task Force in Accra, Ghana.

“We are excited about partnering with the eight African nations who are participating,” said U.S. Navy Captain David 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 West Africa Malaria Task Force will meet in conjunction with the World Health Organization’s World Malaria Day, observed every year on April 25. The event will be attended by medical and military representatives from Benin, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo.

The task force is a regional African initiative, supported by U.S. Africa Command. The goal is to develop solutions to malaria challenges. U.S. Africa Command 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, U.S. Africa Command 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 task force will open with African representatives discussing the results of their malaria program gap analysis. U.S. experts will then brief the task force on Defense Department malaria vaccine programs. Briefings will highlight challenges and lessons learned in protecting U.S. troops against malaria, followed by opportunities to offer the member nations possible solutions to their identified problems.

The leveraging of resources already available to African countries through the PMI to support African militaries will also be discussed. This part of the discussion will be led by members of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), who work as part of the U.S. government interagency team at U.S. Africa Command.

African countries “are very clever in treating malaria,” Doctor Hanna said. “The role of U.S. Africa Command is to coordinate between the U.S. agencies and the African partners. The meeting provides an opportunity to exchange knowledge, experiences and best practices. We are trying to help by coming together to develop protocols for treating different cases.”

“It’s an opportunity for us to see what the eight nations in Africa are doing for malaria programs,” Captain Weiss said. “The hope is we can learn from each other. This program is about Africans learning from each other on how they can develop solutions that address the impact of this devastating disease.”