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World Malaria Day
On World Malaria Day, we are highlighting Dr. Peter Agre, Director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute and former Chair of the CHR, and his work to develop innovative malaria treatments, as well as his efforts to ensure that such treatments are accessible to the communities most in need. Through such work, Dr. Agre is helping to further the right to health.
"Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including... medical care...” -Article 25, Universal Declaration of Human Rights
The Value of Community Engagement for Ending Malaria
Peter Agre, a member of NAS and NAM who served as Chair of the CHR from 2005-2007, directs the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute (JHMRI). Dr. Agre has dedicated the latter part of his career to researching creative treatments for malaria and to ensuring that the communities most vulnerable to malaria have access to such treatments. Though malaria is a treatable disease, the prominence of drug resistant strains is a growing issue. And while new drugs are constantly in development to counter resistant strains, such drugs are costly, limiting their use in developing countries – the same countries where malaria is most rampant. Dr. Agre and his faculty hope to change that by finding innovative solutions to treat the disease. One such way is through the application of Agre's discoveries about aquaporins – discoveries which won him the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry – to mosquitoes. Dr. Agre and his team have explored how to take advantage of the aquaporins in both humans and mosquitoes to prevent the contraction and spread of malaria.
Finding effective ways to ensure universal access to malaria treatments is equally as important as developing them. In partnership with the Macha Research Trust in southern Zambia, Dr. Agre and the JHMRI faculty use a community-based approach to end the spread of malaria. JHMRI also runs a similar program in Zimbabwe. The key to the success of community engagement-based public health initiatives lies in the trust built between the treatment providers and the treatment recipients. The approach is one of the reasons Macha has been able to lower the number of local cases of malaria at a significantly faster rate than the global standard. According to Agre, "genuine partnerships that are based on trust often take years to establish and are vital to the endeavors" associated with treating malaria. Unfortunately, most international agencies have too high a level of staff turnover to build continuous trust within these communities, which limits their effectiveness. JHMRI field offices focus on hiring locally and engaging in conversations with community members throughout the entire process, from discussing the potential of implementing new treatment processes within a community to the actual implementation of the treatments. Local hiring also ensures that people familiar with the norms and customs of the area are a part of the treatment development process, which can help make sure that treatments are explained and administered to the local population in a manner appropriate for each community.
Through his work to distribute malaria treatments in sub-Saharan Africa, Dr. Agre promotes the right to health, ensuring access to healthcare by those most in need. Dr. Agre stresses the benefits of doing such work for all of those involved, including those receiving the treatments and the scientific teams involved.
Dr. Shungyu Munati (left), who directs the Biomedical Research Training Institute in Zimbabwe that partners with JHMRI, with Dr. Agre (right).