EQUATORIAL Guinea has commended the Ifakara Health Institute (IHI) for transforming itself from a field laboratory into one of the world's leading research centres on malaria and other diseases.
The compliment was given by the country's Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Mr Tomas Mecheba Galilea, during a visit to the IHI facilities in Bagamoyo earlier this week. The minister, who led a twelve-man delegation from Equatorial Guinea, said it was impressive to see how IHI was helping policy makers to make evidence-based decisions and expressed his country's interest to work with the Institute in a number of areas.
Equatorial Guinea is located in west central Africa. The country consists of a mainland territory, R'o Muni, which is bordered by Cameroon to the north and Gabon to the east and south, and five small islands, Bioko, Corisco, Annobón, Small Elobey, and Great Elobey.
The petrol-rich country is one of the smallest countries in continental Africa but has one of the highest per capita incomes. One of the areas which interested the minister was findings shared by IHI in a presentation that the behaviour of malaria transmitting mosquitoes was changing.
The mosquitoes are increasingly biting humans outdoors instead of indoors. The minister urged IHI to share that kind of knowledge and experience saying malaria was a global problem. In response, IHI Chief Executive Director, Dr Salim Abdulla, said the institution's scientists have published their works widely in international journals and most of its information was available. He advised Equatorial Guinea to build capacity to have people who can translate the scientific knowledge to have local relevance.
On malaria vaccine development in which IHI is one of the key players, the minister was concerned on how Africa could benefit in terms of patent when the vaccine becomes commercially available. Dr Salim said the priority was in transforming knowledge kept in the shelves to something useful for the people, adding there were many products which have been developed in the world but were not relevant to African needs.
The IHI chief said the focus should be more on developing strategic partnerships. "We may not own the patent at the end of the day, but people can get products at affordable prices." Results from malaria vaccine trials published in the New England Journal of Medicine recently revealed that infants aged 6 to 12 weeks (at first vaccination) against clinical and severe malaria was successful between 31 and 37 per cent over 12 months of follow-up after the third vaccine dose.
The vaccine is being developed in partnership by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and MVI, together with prominent African research centres, including the IHI and the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR). Dr Salim Abdulla is a principal investigator for the trials.
On how African countries benefit from taking part in the vaccine research, of which the delegates wanted to know, Dr Abdulla said participation helps to ensure that the vaccine is tailored to the needs of "our people." On the envisaged collaboration between Equatorial Guinea and IHI, one of the delegates said it would be one of the classic examples of South-South cooperation.
The Equatorial Guinea delegation included Secretary General of Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Victor Sima; Director of the National Malaria Control Programme, Gloria Nseng; Director of Laboratory Services, Máximo Miko Ondo Obono; Director General of Public Health, Jose Raso Bijeri and Angela Katherine Seone, the WHO Representative in Equatorial Guinea.