By Prof. Abdoulaye Diabaté, Head of Medical Entomology and Parasitology, Institut de Recherche en Science de la Santé; Principal Investigator, Target Malaria Burkina Faso

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the 2023 Grand Challenges Annual Meeting in Dakar, Senegal. This year’s event was a special one, as it marked the 20th anniversary of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s flagship R&D grantmaking program, created in 2003 to encourage researchers to “think ambitiously about solving global health crises”.

As part of the meeting, I took part in the panel discussion “Harnessing the Power of Science Against Malaria” moderated by freelance journalist Raïssa Okoï, alongside Principal Investigator Dr. Ify Aniebo from the African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) and singer, songwriter, businessman and global advocate, Youssou N’Dour.

The conversation centered around innovations in the fight against malaria, focusing specifically on the potential of tools such as gene drive technologies and genomic surveillance to combat the spread of the disease. My intervention was focused on shedding light on the threat that malaria still poses worldwide as well as highlighting the importance of exploring new malaria control tools.

By Grégoire Sawadogo, PhD student, Institut de Recherche en Sciences de la Santé (IRSS)

The Pan-African Mosquito Control Association’s (PAMCA) 9th Annual Conference & Exhibition in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, gathered vector control professionals from across the African continent and around the world. As a PhD student in Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering, I attended the conference and presented research work related to the odorant co-receptor gene in the African malaria mosquito Anopheles gambiae, and how it could be exploited for vector control. I also took part in the 2023 Policy Engagement Workshop organized by PAMCA and the Outreach Network for Gene Drive Research on the margins of the conference. The workshop, which aimed to raise awareness of the importance of having the scientific community engaged in international policy debates and provide a set of tools for researchers to communicate effectively about their work, brought together young scientists from across various African research institutions.

World leaders from nearly 200 countries gathered last week in New York for the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) to take stock of progress in implementing the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and address global challenges. At this midpoint towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), it is clear that the world is off course to achieve set health targets by 2030.

Malaria is a case in point. At a press briefing held on the sidelines of the General Assembly, African leaders warned that the world is facing the biggest malaria emergency of the last two decades. “If we wish to achieve our global goals for 2030, of ending malaria epidemics and achieving universal health coverage, we must act now”, stated His Excellency President Umaro Sissoco Embaló, President of the Republic of Guinea-Bissau and Chair of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance. While the fight against malaria has made great strides, with more than 7 million deaths averted in the past two decades, progress has stalled in recent years, particularly in high-burden countries in sub-Saharan Africa. There were an estimated 247 million global malaria cases in 2021, with the African region alone accounting for 95% of these.

By Dr. Rebeca Carballar-Lejarazú, University of California Malaria Initiative (UCMI)

Innovative genetic research is paving the way for groundbreaking solutions to combat vector-borne diseases including malaria, a persistent global health challenge that has seen a concerning rebound in incidence since 2015 due to emerging threats such as insecticide and antimalarial treatment resistance.

The University of California Malaria Initiative (UCMI) is a collaborative group of discovery scientists exploring novel tools including gene drive technologies to modify mosquito populations and contribute to the elimination of malaria. In our recent study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), we demonstrated the potential of a dual effector gene strategy to mitigate malaria transmission from mosquitoes.

By Carolina Torres Trueba, International Legal and Administrative Manager, Island Conservation

Invasive alien species (IAS) pose a major global threat to nature, economies, food security and human health. According to findings published by IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services) in the first global assessment report on IAS and their control, these species have played a major role in 60% of recorded extinctions worldwide and are causing more than US$423 billion annually in estimated losses to the global economy. These costs have at least quadrupled every decade since 1970.

Compiled by 86 experts from 49 countries over the course of four and a half years, the report sheds light on the catastrophic and growing harm caused by IAS to biodiversity and human wellbeing. Island ecosystems are confirmed to be particularly vulnerable, with 90% of global extinctions on islands mainly attributed to IAS.