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PAHO Honors "Malaria Champions of the Americas 2009"

Washington, D.C., 6 November 2009 (PAHO) — Three organizations based in Colombia and Ecuador and a leading malaria expert from Mexico were honored today as "Malaria Champions of the Americas" during the celebration of the third annual Malaria Day in the Americas, held at the headquarters of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

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The top "Malaria Champion of the Americas" award went to two Ecuadoran organizations: the National Service for Control of Arthropod-Transmitted Diseases (SNEM) in Ecuador's Ministry of Health and the Project for Malaria Control in Andean Border Areas (PAMAFRO) of the Andean Health Organization.

Their project, which emphasizes community participation, has reduced the burden of malaria by 66 percent in target areas of the Andean border region. The project has trained microscopists, provided supplies such as microscopes, insecticide-impregnated bed nets, and antimalaria drugs, supported health education campaigns, and trained facilitators and community leaders in prevention, control, diagnosis, treatment, and community policing. As the top award winner, the project will receive $2,500 from the Pan American Health and Education Foundation and a resident fellow from the George Washington University's Center for Global Health to support its activities.

Also honored was Dr. Mario H. Rodriguez López, of Mexico's National Public Health Institute, for leading efforts to eliminate malaria from Mexico and Central America. As the driving force behind the Mesoamerican Initiative for Public Health, Rodriguez has been successful in building partnerships and implementing and coordinating plans to further control malaria, developing alternative vector control methods without the use of insecticides, and building an information system for health in the Mesoamerican region. Considered a leading authority on malaria, he has published more than 141 articles, four books, and 22 book chapters on malaria and related topics.

A third honor went to the Health Division of the Foundation for Education and Social Development (Fundación FES Social) in Colombia, which has spent more than 18 years carrying out research, providing technical assistance, monitoring, and developing public health interventions to fight malaria in endemic areas of the country. The group's research was instrumental in demonstrating that malaria parasites in Colombia had developed resistance to chloroquine, prompting the Ministry of Health to change treatment recommendations. The group has also developed innovative programs that mobilize communities to participate in vector control.

PAHO Deputy Director Jon Andrus said all three winners deserved the designation of Malaria Champion of the Americas. "I hope they will take these awards back to their countries and serve as role models for efforts to fight malaria, not only in their countries but throughout the region."

In Latin America and the Caribbean, malaria control efforts have reduced morbidity due to the disease by 50 percent over the past decade. Yet more than 280 million people in the region still live in areas at risk of the disease. Experts at the event emphasized the importance of maintaining control efforts even as the impact—and the apparent urgency—of the disease is reduced.

Keith Carter, PAHO's top expert on malaria, said that the prospects for continued success were good, in that ministers of health from countries throughout the region pledged at last month's PAHO Directing Council meeting to reduce or eliminate malaria as a public health problem by 2015.

"This was a clarion call by PAHO Member States to combat malaria and other neglected diseases," he said.

The Malaria Day in the Americas panel discussion and competition was organized by PAHO in coordination with the Pan American Health and Education Foundation (PAHEF) and the George Washington University Center for Global Health.

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