The University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute for Global Health (IGH), recently established under the direction of Christopher Plowe, MD, MPH, Professor of Medicine, and UM SOM Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, announced that it will help bring together a diverse array of opposing factions from Myanmar as part of an unprecedented unified effort to eliminate the country’s most fatal disease: malaria.
The historic summit on August 3, 2015 in Washington, DC, was convened by the IGH, the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), and the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH).
Dr. Plowe, along with Myaing Nyunt, MD, MPH, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, and Director of the IGH’s efforts in Myanmar, have been studying the disease and its impact on this fragmented country for the past two decades.
The meeting includes a range of Myanmar groups: both civilian and military government officials; the main opposition party; and the Shan, Karenni, and Kayin ethnic minorities, agreed to a concerted, long-term plan to eliminate malaria in Myanmar. The disease is a major problem in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma: about 300,000 people there suffer from malaria every year; in some parts of the country, a quarter or more of people are infected. In addition, Myanmar faces the grave specter of drug-resistant malaria, and many fear that the disease may become untreatable in the near future even by the most advanced drugs.
“This is a remarkable achievement, a historic landmark for global health and for Myanmar,” said Dr. Plowe, who is also president of ASTMH. “Instead of waiting for political reconciliation before we start eliminating malaria, Myanmar society is coming together to tackle this urgent problem – and in the process, it is building political bridges.”
Dr. Nyunt said the agreement typified the kind of progress possible when public health leads the way. She noted that many of the groups are building new trust in each other. “This is science diplomacy at its best,” she said. “Malaria elimination is getting out ahead of politics in Myanmar. Maybe we can help build relationships across political lines that will lead to progress in other areas.”
The agreement comes at a historic time for Myanmar. Over the past five years, the country has seen a gradual opening as the long-term military government has allowed increasing political and social freedoms. The country is due to have national elections in November, which many hope could lead to further social and political changes.
In recent years, Myanmar has seen a rise in drug-resistant malaria, rendering treatments less effective. Experts say these parasites could spread to other nations and on to Africa, endangering millions. Drs. Plowe and Nyunt say that if the alliance is as effective as it could be, it has a good chance of eliminating drug-resistant disease.
The alliance is a landmark for the Institute for Global Health, which was created in July. The Institute is focusing on vaccine research and development, as well as the prevention and treatment of malaria, a disease that infects about 200 million people a year and kills more than half a million, mostly children in Africa. An expert on malaria, Dr. Plowe is also currently the president of the American Society for Tropical Medicine. IGH joins two other institutes at the school, the Institute for Human Virology (IHV); and the Institute for Genome Sciences (IGS).
“Drs. Plowe and Nyunt have been doing important work for years in the battle against malaria, in Myanmar and elsewhere,” said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, Vice President, Medical Affairs, University of Maryland, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine. “Their work here underscores their commitment to the cause, and I am sure it will help save many lives, in Myanmar and beyond.”
About the Institute for Global Health
The University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute for Global Health (IGH), brings together decades of UM SOM research, treatment and vaccine development around the world, and expands the School’s platform as the premier, leading center for global health research, treatment and prevention. The new Institute will focus on vaccine development and malaria research, and will house the UM SOM’s reconfigured Center for Vaccine Development (CVD) as well as a newly-formed Division for Malaria Research (DMR). The University of Maryland School of Medicine has a global presence now in 35 countries around the world, including research and treatment facilities in Mali, Chile, Malawi and now emerging in Myanmar. http://medschool.umaryland.edu/IGH
About the University of Maryland School of Medicine
The University of Maryland School of Medicine was chartered in 1807 and is the first public medical school in the United States, and continues today as an innovative leader in accelerating innovation and discovery in medicine. The School of Medicine is the founding school of the University of Maryland and is an integral part of the 11-campus University System of Maryland. Located on the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine works closely with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide a research-intensive, academic and clinically based education. With 43 academic departments, centers and institutes and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians and research scientists plus more than $400 million in extramural funding, the School is regarded as one of the leading biomedical research institutions in the U.S., and is ranked among the top-tier of medical schools. The School’s leadership is highlighted by exceptional faculty and programs in cancer, brain science, surgery and transplantation, trauma and emergency medicine, vaccine development and human genomics, among other centers of excellence. The School is not only concerned with the health of the citizens of Maryland and the nation, but also has a global presence, with research and treatment facilities in more than 35 countries around the world. http://medschool.umaryland.edu/