A common foe led to an extraordinary summit this week in Washington, D.C. An array of high-ranking Myanmar government officials and ethnic minority and opposition groups from the Southeast Asian nation, who have been locked in violent conflict for nearly six decades, put aside their differences momentarily to join forces against a mutual enemy carried by a tiny mosquito: Malaria.
“This is science diplomacy at its best. For Myanmar and for the world, this coming together is a model for how to use science and medicine not only to solve important health problems, but also as a way to foster broader social and political change,” said Christopher V. Plowe, MD, President of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (ASTMH), and Director, Institute for Global Health, University of Maryland School of Medicine (GIH).
ASTMH and GIH along with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) played an integral role in bringing together the disparate groups on American soil for an unprecedented meeting that included representatives from the office of the President, the Ministry of Health, military medical experts, members of Parliament, the main opposition party the National League for Democracy, and the Shan, Karenni and Kayin ethnic minorities.
During the discussions held this week at CSIS, the group agreed to increased cooperation and communication across political and cultural lines and to work collectively to eliminate malaria in Myanmar.
This effort to combat malaria in Myanmar also has global implications. The country has seen a sharp increase in drug-resistant malaria. There is a real danger that the drug artemisinin, which has been most effective in combating the disease, may lose its power in Southeast Asia. This could have devastating consequences.
“We have set a goal to have malaria-free Myanmar by 2030,” said Myanmar’s Deputy Minister of Health Thein Thein Htay. “We need to meet in the middle, between the two ends.”
The historic meeting comes just months before Myanmar’s national elections in November, and all sides agreed to continue the dialogue no matter what the outcome. “No matter who wins the upcoming election, this group, the malaria elimination program, will go on,” said Dr. Tin Myo Win, Senior Health Advisor to Aung San Suu Kyi of the National League for Democracy. “We strongly believe that if we can start this kind of model, all-inclusive, all-inviting, we believe we can go forward.”
To learn more about how the Myanmar groups will work to eradicate malaria, check out the following articles:
Myanmar factions find common cause in fighting malaria – Associated Press