Malaria No More has announced the launch of a new global institute with the mission to combat malaria in the face of climate change and weather volatility.
It has partnered with the Crown Prince Court of Abu Dhabi (CPC) and the Reaching the Last Mile program to achieve its objective. The announcement was made at the summit event of Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week, during a session focused on climate change, its impact on human health, and the adaptations needed to respond effectively.
The new Institute for Malaria and Climate Solutions (IMACS) is a virtual center of excellence advancing multidisciplinary approaches to malaria strategies informed by Artificial Intelligence (AI) and climate data, while supporting their adoption by malaria control programs around the world.
Malaria is one of oldest and deadliest diseases, devastating families and perpetuating cycles of poverty in communities and countries around the world. While the tools and technologies exist to end the disease, climate change has slowed progress. Climate events such as rising temperatures, changing rainfall patterns, and extreme weather disrupt health systems while affecting the range and seasonality of malaria infection. The World Health Organization estimates that climate change will soon lead to an additional 60,000 malaria deaths each year, on top of the 600,000 deaths per year it already causes, primarily in women and children.
Supported by the Crown Prince Court, Reaching the Last Mile (RLM) is a portfolio of global health programs working towards disease elimination that is driven by the personal commitment of Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces. Through its programs, RLM is committed to collaborating across industries and utilising innovations, such as AI, to help prevent the effects of climate change from hindering progress in disease elimination.
The United Arab Emirates is well established as leading voice in global climate stewardship, and recently announced it will host the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) in 2023.
This commitment to IMACS builds on an introductory award of US$1.5 million made to Malaria No More in 2020 to assess the feasibility of climate-informed malaria strategies through Forecasting Healthy Futures (FHF). The Mohamed Bin Zayed University for Artificial Intelligence has also joined as a new technical partner to build on the seminal work that has been achieved to date.
“Global health and climate change are inextricably linked and we must approach them holistically and with innovation in order to make lasting impact,” said Tala Al Ramahi, Associate Director at the Office of Strategic Affairs at the Crown Prince Court. “In the case of malaria, we need to develop smarter systems of prediction and precision planning to guide investment and resources where they are most needed. By applying artificial intelligence and new sources of critical weather and environmental data, IMACS will help improve the science and enable us to better protect the vulnerable populations most effected by climate change and disease spread. Addressing global health challenges through innovative global partnerships such as the one with Malaria No More, serves as a core guiding principle to the work of Reaching the Last Mile.”
IMACS is a part of the Forecasting Healthy Futures (FHF) initiative, a consortium convened by Malaria No More and Reaching the Last Mile in 2020 to drive innovation and investment in global health solutions in the context of climate change, beginning with mosquito borne disease like malaria. In partnership with the Government of India, FHF has designed and implemented a highly sophisticated Malaria Prediction & Planning Toolkit, which IMACS will work to replicate in other malaria affected countries around the world.
The Institute serves as the secretariat for a growing community of practice, and will be guided by a Scientific Advisory Board of international experts in climate sciences, infectious disease, entomology and AI. Its staff and consultants are based throughout the malaria-affected world, and work in partnership with Ministries of Health everywhere in support of malaria elimination.
“It’s imperative that the global health community stay one step ahead of the inevitable effects of a changing planet on diseases like malaria, dengue, zika, and other insect-borne disease,” said Martin Edlund, CEO of Malaria No More. “With the help of foundational partners like Reaching the Last Mile, Forecasting Healthy Futures aims to educate and inform global leaders and policy makers, and to demonstrate transformative solution – essentially turning obstacles into opportunities to accelerate disease elimination efforts. IMACS will network, equip, and empower global experts to help us do just that.”
The UAE’s Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence is also providing critical support to the new institute, by leveraging its technical expertise in the field of data science and AI. Research Engagement Director Dr. Hosni Ghedira remarked, “AI has made impressive strides over the past decade. We’re keen to find opportunities to put our expertise to use in improving health outcomes worldwide, and in particular through collaboration with IMACS in pursuit of malaria elimination.”
IMACS will promote innovations in data and technology-informed malaria programs, foster collaboration and knowledge exchange among an international network of experts, and convene an annual scientific conference to showcase the most promising new approaches to building climate resilience in health systems. It will also actively support the translation of those approaches to practical and applicable solutions, by deploying multidisciplinary technical assistance to malaria-endemic countries.
As part of today’s announcement, Dr. Kaushik Sarkar was appointed as IMAC’s inaugural Director. Dr. William Pan, Associate Professor of Global Environmental Health at Duke University, was named as the Chair of IMAC’s Science Advisory Board.