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 multi-national Malaria Task Force in East Africa.
The idea prompted the western region to start its first West Africa Malaria Task Force.
On 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 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 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 event is a regional African initiative, supported by the 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 (PMI) 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,” said Dr. Hanna. “Ninety percent of world-wide 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 West Africa Malaria Task Force will be held 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 program is sponsored by the (U.S.) Armed Forces Health Center and supports the command’s military-to-military program managed by U.S. Africa Command’s Strategy, Plans, and Programs (J5) Directorate.
“The fundamental principles and goals of HHA engagements are 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 U.S. Africa Command’s Humanitarian and Health Activities (HHA) Branch. “The establishment of the West Africa Malaria Task Force helps fulfill both of these goals. This task force reinforces and benefits from other programs to include HIV/AIDS, disaster preparedness, pandemic influenza and humanitarian assistance.”
The task force opens with African representatives discussing the results of their malaria program gap analysis. U.S. experts will then brief the task force on DoD 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 the identified problems during their gap analyses.
Additionally, the leveraging and use of resources already made available to African countries through the PMI to support African militaries will be discussed. This part of the discussion will be led by members of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), who works as part of the U.S. government interagency team at U.S. Africa Command.
The meeting of U.S. experts and the task force countries to resolve malaria issues together is an important step toward achieving this goal of keeping the troops healthy.
Hanna emphasized that the goal of the U.S. Africa Command is building African capacities and capabilities via participation in the West Africa Malaria Task Force.
“They are very clever in treating malaria,” he 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.”
Hanna also talked about other efforts of the U.S. government to help eradicate malaria in Africa.
The U.S. Army Medical Research Unit in Kenya has been helping the African continent to combat malaria since 1973, he said. The research center coordinates operations with the U.S. Embassy, Senior Defense Official, the Kenya U.S. Liaison Office (KUSLO)/Defense Attaché Office (DAO), U.S. Africa Command, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), USAID, and numerous Kenyan Ministries.
The center also supports the U.S. Africa Command commander’s health related Theater Security Cooperation activities through engagement of nations in the region.
According to Hryshchyshyn, U.S. Africa Command’s goal is to enhance bi-lateral and regional capacity and cooperation amongst partner nation military medical professionals in West Africa in malaria prevention, diagnostics, treatment, surveillance and overall program management.
“It’s an opportunity for us to see what the eight nations in Africa are doing for malaria programs,” said Weiss. “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.”