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Malaria Summit Pushes for Larger African Role

As a malaria conference in Cameroon draws to a close, scientists and policy-makers are focusing on improving research capacity in Africa, the continent most affected by the deadly disease.

The last day of the Pan-African Malaria Conference was opened with groups of drummers and traditional African dance troops.

The focus at the end of the summit of health experts, government officials and donor organizations is on how to build Africa's ability to find its own solutions to the disease. The continent accounts for around 90 percent of the world's malaria deaths, with one African child succumbing every 30 seconds.

As a medical student in Cameroon's capital, this year's Young Malaria Scientist of the Year Award winner, 27-year-old Dr. Genevieve Fouda Amouou, witnessed the disease's effects first-hand.

"I saw many, many children coming in the hospital, dying because of anemia linked to malaria," she said. "I really wanted to know what we can do to help. I have always wanted to work on something that is important in my country."

Dr. Fouda Amouou is now researching how to protect infants and pregnant women, two of the most vulnerable groups, from malaria. Nearly all of the 15 scientists short-listed for the award come from Africa. Dr. Fouda Amouou says this is a positive sign.

"I don't think the nationality is really the most important," she said. "I think the research is most important. But it's encouraging that there are young Africans, who are interested, and who are doing good research. This really shows that we can do good research."

In 2000, African leaders came together in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, to discuss how African nations could combat the disease. They pledged to cut by half the number of malaria deaths in 10 years, by fostering partnerships with donors, and improving access to care.

Five years later, Cameroon's health minister, Urbain Awono, says Africa is indeed making progress.

"I think that this conference of Yaounde is very important, not only in the perspective of the attendance, because we have more than 1,500 researchers gathered together," he said. "The conference takes place in an African country. That is another indicator that things are moving."

As part of the closing ceremony Friday, the headquarters for the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria, or MIM, was officially transferred from Stockholm, Sweden, to Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. This is the first time the global alliance created to fight against malaria will be based in an African country.

The Pan-African Conference on Malaria is being followed by a two-day forum on the state of the worldwide Roll Back Malaria campaign, starting Friday. Like the Abuja declaration of 2000, the forum is pushing to cut malaria deaths by half by 2010.