"COVID-19 has made it clear that a health threat anywhere is a health threat everywhere"

Dr Meera Venkatesan and Dr Lisa Hare

Dr Meera Venkatesan and Dr Lisa Hare from USAID discuss their work and that of others in securing global health supply chains in 2020.

1. Shortly after COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, global health experts predicted it could significantly disrupt malaria programmes and supply chains for malaria commodities, reversing years of hard-won progress. PMI and others have taken exceptional measures to address this situation. What are these measures and what lessons has PMI learned so far?

The pandemic has taught us that global collaboration and commitment is essential in securing malaria supplies and commodities. Critically, the global community came together early in the crisis to identify pandemic-related threats to malaria efforts. Priorities included streamlining importation requirements and estimating demands for continued production and distribution. Endemic countries also responded quickly to maintain mosquito net delivery, insecticide spraying and seasonal malaria chemoprevention.

2. How have countries managed malaria despite disruption from COVID-19?

To maintain progress, countries have adapted to ensure safe delivery of lifesaving malaria interventions, administering seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) through caregivers and prioritizing health worker protection. Despite these incredible efforts, there are still challenges, such as dips in availability and use of routine services, including testing, treatment, and addressing malaria in pregnancy. These disruptions can have devastating and long-lasting impacts on malaria. We need all hands on deck to protect progress.

3. The USA, like many countries, is facing its most devastating infectious disease pandemic in over a century. Why is it important to continue supporting the work of product development partnerships (PDPs) like MMV at the same time as dealing with a national health crisis?

COVID-19 has made it clear that a health threat anywhere is a health threat everywhere. It is important to invest in any such global threat, especially one as deadly and infectious as malaria. For example, in the Republic of Guinea during the Ebola outbreaks of 2013–2014 there were likely more malaria deaths than Ebola deaths, largely due to disrupted services. PMI is dedicated to providing support to countries, so they do not need to choose between fighting COVID-19 or malaria.

4. The pandemic has shown how important it is to continuously develop new tools to fight infectious disease as well as expand access to existing ones. What role does MMV play in helping partner countries and PMI to fight malaria?

PMI and MMV have synergistic roles in the fight against malaria. Today we have medicines to treat and prevent malaria, but we know that resistance to artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs) can spread. Therefore, we will require new antimalarial tools in future. MMV is critical for adding more tools to the box. With the PDP model, MMV has strong relationships with manufacturers and brings much-needed knowledge to the table, helping us prepare for the malaria of tomorrow.

5. Although COVID-19 poses a serious threat to malaria progress, what gives you hope we can eliminate this disease?

Malaria can be eliminated within our lifetimes. El Salvador is the most recent example and we are seeing similar progress elsewhere, including in the Mekong sub-Region, where PMI supports the implementation of national elimination strategies. Thailand and Cambodia are aiming to eliminate malaria in the next five years, which is incredibly exciting. Despite COVID-19, countries have continued many of their lifesaving malaria prevention campaigns and are gearing up to do the same in 2021. Even though there are serious threats to malaria progress, there are also many reasons to have hope.