Press Releases

2001 Releases

The Harvard Malaria Initiative, Medicines for Malaria Venture, and Roll Back Malaria Receive Funding for Malaria Prevention from ExxonMobil

For immediate release: April 17, 2001

BOSTON, MA– Three key programs in malaria prevention, the Harvard Malaria Initiative, Medicines for Malaria Venture, and Roll Back Malaria, have received grants from ExxonMobil to fight one of the world's most serious diseases. 

The ExxonMobil funding, announced today at the Harvard School of Public Health, will support the accelerated development of new antimalarial drugs and malarial vaccines and strengthen on-the-ground programs for malaria prevention and treatment in five sub-Saharan African countries where ExxonMobil has major exploration and production operations: Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria. The funding includes $1 million for the Harvard Malaria Initiative and $300,000 for Medicines for Malaria Venture. ExxonMobil teams also will work with host governments and the local Roll Back Malaria program to develop specific plans for the five countries. 

The World Health Organization has identified malaria as one of three major diseases of poverty, along with HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis. Although malaria is a curable disease if promptly diagnosed and adequately treated, there are more cases of malaria today than at any time in history. Forty percent of the world's population is at risk. In 2001, more than 300 million new cases will occur and more than one million people will die from the disease, of whom the majority will be young children. Ninety percent of the deaths will occur in Africa, south of the Sahara.

Although eradicated in many countries, including the U.S, in the 1950s, the increasing resistance of the malaria parasite to drug therapies makes the disease a global public health concern of immense proportions. In addition to the extremely high rate of infection and death, malaria cripples developing economies through the enormous cost in medical expenses and days of labor lost. It is estimated that each year the direct and indirect costs of malaria drain $2 billion from the economies of sub-Saharan African countries.

With its commitment to the Harvard Malaria Initiative, Medicines for Malaria Venture and Roll Back Malaria, ExxonMobil hopes to increase awareness of the disease, strengthen research and prevention programs, and establish a public-private partnership for in-country programs. "From its own experience in sub-Saharan Africa, ExxonMobil realizes that the malaria epidemic is a real issue and has sought out groups who are working to make a difference," said Dyann Wirth, Ph.D., Director of the Harvard Malaria Initiative.

The Harvard Malaria Initiative (HMI), founded by the Harvard School of Public Health in 1997, focuses on basic scientific research on disease mechanisms in malaria, using findings to discover and develop new drug and vaccines therapies for the disease. "Because drug resistance is a major problem with malaria, we must do the research to find antimalarial drugs. Genomics is one path to development of drugs and vaccines to treat and prevent malaria," said Dr. Wirth. This spring, the sequencing of the malarial parasite’s genome will be completed by an international consortium. This new genomic information will be instrumental in helping identify new drugs and vaccines. 

According to Dr. Wirth, ExxonMobil's support will strengthen the Initiative's research capacities and enable the Initiative to provide training for scientists from malaria-endemic regions in drug development, treatment, and prevention techniques. "It is vital to train scientists from developing countries so they can translate the latest medical innovations into practical applications in-country," said Dr. Wirth.

Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), a non-profit foundation based in Geneva, Switzerland, manages the discovery and development of new antimalarial drugs. MMV's programs, which typically partner academic investigators with the established pharmaceutical industry, have been instrumental in advancing the pipeline of new drugs following decades of decline. MMV’s goal is to bring one new antimalarial drug to market approximately every five years with the first new drug in production before 2010. Christopher C. Hentschel, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of MMV, noted that ExxonMobil is the first company outside the pharmaceutical industry to back MMV. "Although there are many substantial companies with operations in disease-endemic areas, ExxonMobil is showing real leadership in the fight against malaria in sub-Saharan Africa," said Dr. Hentschel. "With their support, MMV will be better able to renew man's currently diminishing selection of effective antimalarial drugs."

Roll Back Malaria (RBM), a program of the World Health Organization, is a multi-sector partnership that works directly with malaria-endemic countries to develop and implement prevention and treatment programs, with the goal of reducing the global malaria burden by 50 percent by 2010. RBM’s prevention efforts have included: providing insecticide-treated mosquito nets and environmental management to control mosquitoes; research on new medicines, vaccines, and insecticides; surveillance of disease incidence; disease diagnosis and treatment; and strengthening of existing health services and policies. The RBM movement involves the World Bank, UNDP (UN Development Program), UNICEF (The UN Children's Fund), governments, and private-sector partners. ExxonMobil will support RBM efforts in Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea, and Nigeria, the five sub-Saharan countries where the company has major operations.

"Our partnership with ExxonMobil will help catalyze our distribution efforts to get essential educational and training programs to needed areas," said Kamini Mendis, M.D., Senior Adviser, RBM. "An example is our work in Nigeria where we are building public health centers that can serve entire communities, training health workers to prevent and treat malaria, and addressing other critical issues such as water sanitation, the distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and reproductive health." 

In addition to providing funding for the Harvard Malaria Initiative, Medicines for Malaria Venture, and Roll Back Malaria, ExxonMobil hopes that its commitment to malaria prevention programs will encourage other private-sector companies to become involved. "We are committed to being an active partner in the global challenge to fight malaria, and we are very pleased to provide this funding and the support of our ExxonMobil companies in Angola, Cameroon, Chad, Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria," said Edward F. Ahnert, President of the ExxonMobil Foundation. "We have long supported programs that address public health issues worldwide, because we know that public health is a cornerstone of opportunity and achievement. Public-private partnerships can result in improved health programs and sustained results for local populations."

For more information about the Harvard Malaria Initiative, visit: http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/malaria.


For further information, please contact:

Robin Herman 
Director of Communications 
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Phone: 617-432-4752 
Email: rherman@hsph.harvard.edu