Foundation Stone Laying Ceremony and Annual Day Celebration at ICMR-NIMR

12 November 2018, New Delhi, India

Professor Balram Bhargava, Secretary, DHR & DG, ICMR; Dr Neena Valecha, Director, ICMR-NIMR; Ms Payden; Dr Swarup Sarkar; experts, scientists on malaria control and elimination; I see my old friends here – Dr Shiv Lal and Dr A P Dash; distinguished participants,

It is a privilege to address you as part of this ceremony. Though I was here just two years ago for the inauguration of the WHO-recognized malaria RDT lot testing center, our collaboration spans many, many more years.

It is a delight to be back.

For more than four decades the National Institute of Malaria Research has been at the forefront of India’s battle against malaria by carrying out basic, applied and operational field research, as well as research on drugs and vector control tools.

As part of this, NIMR has been active in and supported WHO training programmes and assessments and is one of our registered collaborating centers. It is a partnership I am immensely proud of, and which has been of great value.

I am pleased to note NIMR’s growth plan and look forward to the Institute exerting greater influence in India, as across the South-East Asia Region.

Indeed, NIMR’s potential to promote Region-wide progress, as well as support the global response, should be fully embraced.

Overall, our Region remains the second largest contributor to the global malaria burden. Malaria is endemic in nine of the Region’s 11 countries, accounting for nearly 70% of the burden outside the Africa Region. We continue to battle the threat of drug-resistance in the countries of the Greater Mekong Subregion and are working across regions to do so.

We nevertheless have strong progress to build on.

Between 2010 and 2016 global malaria incidence fell by 18%. Of all WHO regions ours recorded the largest decline, with confirmed cases down by 46%, from 2.6 million in 2010 to 1.4 million in 2016. Maldives and Sri Lanka have already been certified malaria-free, while several countries are on the cusp of achieving the same. In addition, each of the Region’s countries are committed to eliminating the disease completely by 2030. Regarding mortality, the Region is already well ahead of global targets.

Even as the global struggle against malaria is described as ‘at a crossroads’, our Region continues to make steady progress. But there is of course plenty more to do. I am sure NIMR will be a core part of our future progress, especially as it relates to providing an evidence base to support the design and implementation of novel policies and technologies.

Distinguished participants,

There is much we can learn from India’s experience.

First, we must understand that a significant part of the global and regional decline in the malaria burden was the result of actions taken in India itself. Between 2016 and 2017 alone, India slashed malaria incidence by 22%, recording nearly 250 000 less reported cases. That is a massive achievement and demonstrates what can be achieved when high-level resolve is backed by effective action at the grassroots. It deserves more recognition than has been accorded.

Second, through its success, India makes a very strong case for taking a subnational approach to malaria response and validation. While India is the only country outside Africa in the world’s top ten high-burden countries, over 75% of it is either near elimination or malaria-free. The time has come to initiate locally owned elimination, certification and validation programmes. The substantial reductions in Odisha’s caseload are a case in point. If subnational campaigns were carried out in Chattisgarh and Jharkand, as they were in Odisha, India would dramatically reduce its malaria burden, as almost 70% of it comes from these three states.

Third, we must embrace and pursue a cross-border response that would benefit the country as well as its five neighbors. The Indian Council of Medical Research can play a significant role in doing so, including by setting up examples of a model border district response where the innovative use of digital, web-based technologies can hasten the transfer of information and thereby enhance response capacity.

Fourth, India could benefit significantly from integrating elimination programmes – including for neglected tropical diseases – at the block or district level. The state of Kerala is already looking at implementing such an arrangement, providing an example that would be watched closely the world over.

Fifth and finally, we must comprehend the importance of grassroots and community engagement and buy-in in our quest to eliminate malaria. Both the National Aids Research Institute and the Vector Control Research Center have harnessed this approach to great effect, demonstrating how NIMR could follow suit, especially in high-burden areas, and especially among tribal people.

WHO stands committed to supporting your efforts to lift malaria’s burden, both here and across the Region. We know it can be done. We know we can make it happen. I look very much forward to continuing WHO and NIMR’s long tradition of collaboration and partnership.

My congratulations to the Secretary of Health Research and the Director of NIMR for expanding the Institute’s facilities by adding an auditorium, guest house and hostel. I also congratulate NIMR staff who are celebrating 25 years of service today. I wish you all the best in your work and continued quest to achieve a malaria-free India.

I hope you have an engaging morning and enjoy these well-earned celebrations. I very much look forward to NIMR going from strength-strength as it continues to grow and expand.

Thank you.