IWD 2022: Malaria and the journey from control to elimination

Burnet Institute

08 March, 2022

Image: Burnet Scientific Officer Benishar Kombut taking part in Burnet's IWD celebration

Women play an important and often disproportionate role in the fight against malaria in the Asia Pacific region – as frontline health workers, community-based workers and researchers.

Burnet’s 2022 International Women’s Day celebration, held on Thursday 3 March, featured an international keynote, and a trio of early career women scientists at Burnet, and explored ways women in science are working to strengthen and innovate malaria control across the region.

“This event comes at an opportune time to reinforce the importance of pushing forward with the malaria elimination agenda in the region,” said event co-host, Professor Leanne Robinson, Burnet Program Director, Health Security, and Group Leader Vector-Borne Diseases and Tropical Public Health.

“We were able to highlight the critical role that education, equity and increasing the representation of women in health policy and leadership roles has on improving health outcomes. To have Dr Karma Lhazeen reflect on this in such a meaningful way and share lessons for the region was inspiring.”

A tropical medicine specialist, keynote speaker Dr Lhazeen is Co-Chair, Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network (APMEN) Vivax Working Group, and Director, Department of Medical Public Health, Ministry of Health Bhutan.

Since March 2021, she has served as Co-Chair of the Asia-Pacific Malaria Elimination Vivax Working Group, and overseen the national rollout of COVID-19 vaccines in her country.

In her keynote, Dr Lhazeen spoke about the journey from malaria control to elimination in Bhutan, about the success of fast-tracking malaria testing in Bhutan, and the challenges of the future.

“We need to see malaria elimination addressed by more than health areas, we need multi-sectoral engagement if we are to make changes,” Dr Lhazeen said.

“We have to see all the emerging issues like climate change and global warming, and how they may be a setback to our malaria control efforts.”

She also spoke of the importance of cooperation throughout the Asia-Pacific region, and of networks of women, as they are over-represented in health in those countries.

“We encourage the participation of women in our Asia-Pacific regions, so we can all learn, take back and contribute.”

“The choice of Dr Lhazeen as key note speaker was brilliant,” said Burnet board member, Associate Professor Helen Evans AO, “not only because she gave such a good presentation and wove malaria, the challenges of the last mile, the role and impact of women, climate change, drug resistance and COVID together brilliantly, but also because she is such a good example of someone from within Bhutan who is more than capable of leading both nationally and also regionally.”

International Women’s Day has always been a significant day for Burnet Institute and our supporters, and traditionally was an opportunity for a face-to-face catch-up between donors and Burnet’s women staff and scientists over lunch. However, for the second year in a row, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we have had to hold it virtually.

This did not dampen the enthusiasm of the attendees, and in fact provided us with opportunities to broaden the reach of the event. Apart from speakers, from Bhutan, Papua New Guinea and Australia, we were able to welcome supporters and colleagues in greater numbers than previously, and open up to regional, interstate and international guests.

“It was wonderful to have the opportunity for so many of our supporters to meet several of our emerging stars in malaria research and the priority research areas they are addressing in the region,” said Professor Robinson.

We heard from Burnet Postdoctoral Scientist Dr Katherine O’Flaherty (pictured below) on targeting interventions and surveillance to high-risk populations to accelerate malaria elimination in the Greater Mekong sub-Region.

PhD student and researcher Dulcie Lautu-Gumal (pictured below) spoke from Papua New Guinea on molecular tools for antimalarial drug resistance surveillance in PNG.

And Burnet Scientific Officer Ms Benishar Kombut shared her research on evaluating diagnostics for detecting malaria in pregnancy in PNG.

Click here to watch the presentations

“All the presentations were excellent,” said Ms Mary Padbury, Chair of Burnet. “The entire event was a timely reminder of the ongoing fight against malaria in the region and the added pressures of the impact of climate change, drug resistance and the diversion of funds to COVID.

“I would like to thank all of the speakers, my Burnet colleagues, and of course our very generous donors for attending – we couldn’t do it without your support.”

Donate to support women in science and malaria research at Burnet

A final thanks to everyone who has so far given to our IWD Celebration, in support of women scientists at Burnet and their important research contributing to the worldwide effort to eliminate malaria. Please make a gift to support this important research today.

The impact of your donation today will be doubled, thanks to three very generous supporters who pledged a total of $15,000 to match funds.

International Women’s Day was honoured for the first time in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland on 19 March 1911, and the day is marked globally on 8 March.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Leanne Robinson

Program Director, Health Security and Pandemic Preparedness; Senior Principal Research Fellow, Group Leader, Vector-Borne Diseases and Tropical Public Health


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