This year Japan started awarding a medical prize that it hopes will someday rival the Nobel in significance: the Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize, named after a scientist who worked on yellow fever in Latin American and Africa in the early 20th century.
Brian Greenwood in Yokohama, Japan. (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)
Japan gives the prize, which comes with a $1 million award, to people who advance public health in Africa. In May, the inaugural award went to Miriam Were, a Kenyan public health worker focused on reducing the stigma of HIV, and Brian Greenwood, a malaria researcher and professor at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
Greenwood spent more than 30 years in Africa, "pioneering landmark research to deepen our understanding of the immunology, epidemiology and many other aspects of malaria," according to the announcement of the award. The Health Blog caught up with Greenwood after the Japanese Embassy in London hosted a reception for him recently.
Here are highlights from our conversation with him about one of Africa's biggest killers:
What do governments and non-governmental groups need to do in the malaria fight?
Keep up the funding. In the last two or three years since the funding did go up, it's been shown you can really make a big impact with the tools we've got - using insecticide-treated bed nets, effective drugs, making sure people have access to drugs. If you can do that, you will reduce the malaria burden by about 90% in most places.
That's going to need quite a substantial amount of money from the outside, wealthy countries. Something like $5 billion of outside funding a year is needed, to get 90% control in most places where malaria happens. And at the moment, it's probably something like $1 or $2 billion. But five years ago that was probably $100 million. So we need to go a little bit further, and we certainly don't want to go backwards. That means keeping up the pressure and broadcasting some of the success stories.
Can malaria be wiped out anytime soon?
We really have to get the message across that this is for the long haul. The Gates Foundation in October of last year talked about eradicating malaria. Well, that's great. We should try to do that, and that should be everybody's goal. But we don't want people to think that's going to happen in 10 years. Because the danger is, money will come now, and when that hasn't been achieved in 10 years, the donors will move on to something else. So this is a long job.
What should Africans be doing?
They need to keep up their pressure on their governments. To make sure malaria is kept on the agenda. That will be more difficult in a country like where I worked for 15 years, the Gambia - malaria really has gone down very substantially there. And there will be a temptation for people to say, well, actually, we can turn our attention to something else now. It's very important that politicians and the health services are not allowed to do that. There are several countries in Africa where that's the case now — Kenya, Eritrea, Tanzania, where it's not gone but it's been brought a lot under control.
What are you doing now?
I came back from Africa about ten years ago. I'm working at the London School. We had a big grant from the Gates Foundation in 2000, which was partly doing research on malaria and party supporting training of African scientists working on malaria. That grant is coming to an end at the end of this year. But we've just recently had a new one from the Wellcome Trust on capacity development. That's going to be my main focus for the next few years - helping with the training of African scientists to do research on malaria.
Are you working on any new medicines or vaccines.
Yes. That's more sort of in an advisory role. A lot of the new malaria drugs are being developed through a public-private partnership called the Medicines for Malaria Venture — MMV. They're doing a really good job in developing new anti-malarial drugs, which is not a big interest of the big pharmaceutical companies because they're not going to make a lot of money out of that. But they will work with academia if they get some money to do that. So what the MMV does is to bring together these groups in developing new drugs. Somebody has to help them decide which projects are the good ones.