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The Science Of Today Is Tomorrow's Technology

26/10/2016 10:08 | Updated 26 October 2016

You can't help but be proud of the UK's role in tackling head-on some of the globe's deadliest diseases. The Grand Challenges - a meeting hosted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - is drawing to a close in London, where it has recognised and further inspired UK leadership in science and innovation. UK ingenuity - past and present - has delivered solutions to combat so many diseases, including malaria.

Over the years game-changing research and development in the malaria field has given us long-lasting insecticide treated nets that protect millions of families every night; accurate, quick and cheap finger prick tests to diagnose malaria; the world's first malaria vaccine being trialled in Africa; and in the pipeline a single dose malaria treatment - to name just a few.

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Of the topics open for grant applications as part of the Gates Grand Challenges Explorations, the idea of designing new data integration solutions for malaria elimination caught my eye. Sounds a bit dry, so why the interest? Because malaria surveillance - the collection and analysis of health data - is critical to the fight against malaria, helping us target prevention and control measures. Geo-located data reporting is making it possible to pinpoint exactly where malaria is affecting communities, and stop the spread of the disease.

Just last week I was in Kenya visiting Siaya County (famous for being the home county of US President Barack Obama's father) seeing first-hand how community health workers are using mobile phones to track malaria cases in rural areas, helping to ensure treatments reach people in the right place at the right time. These efforts have led health officials to be optimistic that they are not only going to control malaria, but can one day eliminate the disease from a region that had previously had the country's highest rates of malaria. The prevalence rates were over 60%. Now a potent combination of the best of humanity (community health workers who are mainly subsistence farmers, treating their fellow villagers) and tech (mobile phones) is ensuring the fight against malaria is well targeted, efficient, and driving prevalence rates below 30% and lower.

The Grand Challenges celebration of UK science culminates in tonight's special Science Museum Lates event. These monthly after-hours events bring together a range of one-off exhibits around a particular theme. Tonight's theme, fittingly, is 'Contagion' and we'll be there to host the Malaria Zone, along with Imperial College London - offering a unique opportunity to see British science in action in a global health context. Further zones cover Zika, Ebola and other diseases.

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In recent weeks the Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel, has written and spoken about how the malaria fight is a prime example of UK aid well spent. Tonight's event provides a fantastic chance to see exhibits from the frontline of UK scientific innovation first hand. Imperial College London will be there to discuss how modified mosquitoes could hold the key to malaria eradication, while guests will be invited to diagnose malaria, meet the infamous Mozzy Man and find out how attractive they are to a swarm of hungry (malaria free!) mosquitoes.

Our goal of a malaria free world is within our reach - in large part due to British ingenuity, leadership and public compassion. We can be proud but never complacent. We're half way there - now let's finish the job and end malaria once and for all.

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