Sarah de Souza

Bayer Brings Agriculture and Public Health Together as Part of a Global Effort to End Malaria for Good

On World Malaria Day, we’re shining a light on Bayer’s unique contributions as a life sciences leader to controlling and preventing malaria.

Today is World Malaria Day, a chance to shine a spotlight on the global effort to control malaria and an occasion to highlight the need for continued investment and sustained commitment for malaria prevention and control.

Endemic in 91 countries, malaria threatens the health and livelihoods of almost half the world’s population. In 2015, there were 212 million cases globally, resulting in 429,000 deaths, 92 percent of which occurred in Africa and primarily in children under 5 years old in Africa.

Yet, through the deep commitments of public institutions and private companies like Bayer, substantial progress is being made in the fight against malaria. Global cases of malaria decreased by 21 percent between 2010 and 2015 while death rates fell over the same period by 29 percent.

Vector control, a field in which Bayer has been a leader for over 60 years, has played an enormous role in restricting the transmission of malaria. It is estimated that the implementation of malaria vector control interventions, such as insecticide treated nets and indoor residual spraying of houses, been responsible for preventing almost 80 percent of the total cases averted in Africa in the last 15 years.

Sarah de Souza
Sarah de Souza
Sarah de Souza,
SSA Malaria Vector Control Technical Representative at Bayer

However, progress in vector control is now at risk as mosquitoes develop resistance to existing solutions. According to Pedro Alonso, Head of WHO Global Malaria Program, “Insecticide resistance is the greatest current threat to the future of malaria control and to the sustainability of the achievements of recent years.”

Bayer is currently conducting field trials on an innovative new mode of action, a mixture of a compound used in malaria vector control and a compound repurposed from agriculture. As in medicine, combination therapies can be used to improve effectiveness when there is resistance to single compounds. Given that this innovation uses a compound repurposed from agriculture, it is critical to understand the links between mosquitoes showing reduced susceptibility and agricultural practices in order to understand where and how this compound will be most effective and thus better support the in-country malaria programs. Fortunately, as a life sciences leader, Bayer is in a unique position to do just that, with our expertise in both agriculture and public health.

In the Ivory Coast, where I’m based as a “Volontariat International en Entreprise” (International Volunteer in Business) with Bayer, 65 percent of the land is agricultural, producing in 2014 35 percent of global cocoa harvests. This “brown gold”, one of the pillars of Ivorian economy accounts for two-thirds pf people’s jobs and incomes. Smallholder farmers and their families in rural areas rely on agriculture to survive and at the same time are highly exposed to malaria.

Insecticide resistance in Anopheline mosquitoes in Ivory Coast is some of the most intense in the world. Mosquitoes are showing resistance here to compounds which they have never been exposed to via Public Health interventions and scientists are therefore considering the potential link to use of these compounds in agriculture. However, information to support this idea is currently mainly circumstantial as there is limited dialogue between stakeholders in the worlds of agriculture and public health.

In an effort to bring these worlds together, in the last year, with the support of colleagues in our Crop Science business team, I have surveyed Ivory Coast farmers on the products they use to grow the three major crop groups of cocoa, cotton and rice, in order to build a clearer picture of the reality of their agricultural practices. Next, I will work with local malaria entomology experts to run tests on mosquitoes from the farming areas, and try to connect the dots between variations in susceptibility and insecticides that farmers reported using most.

Sarah on the cocoa plantations collating valuable data for future decision making.
Sarah on the cocoa plantations collating valuable data for future decision making.
Sarah on the cocoa plantations collating valuable data for future decision making.

With this information, Bayer can start a real dialogue between the farming and public health sectors, leading to a better understanding of the impact of agricultural practices in public health. In doing so, malaria control programs can be smarter in the vector control solutions they use and ensure greater impact on malaria disease.

Being fiercely passionate about fighting malaria, I feel privileged to collaborate with Bayer specialists in agriculture, contributing my scientific expertise to correlate agricultural and public health data and facilitate dialogue between the private and public sectors.

For me, success in this initiative will occur on a few levels. As a scientist, success is when all data is complete and we are able to draw clear conclusions. As a public health practitioner, success is bringing together stakeholders in agriculture and public health to provide needed innovation, training and education that has a lasting impact on combatting resistance. And, most importantly, as a member of society, we’ll be successful when we achieve Bayer’s purpose of Better Life, contributing to ending malaria for good.

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