Celebration of the 25th anniversary of the Manhiça Health Research Centre

By Paul Chinnock

The second part of Monday morning’s main session at the Tenth EDCTP Forum was a celebration! Mozambique’s Manhiça Health Research Centre (CISM) is marking its 25th Anniversary this year. Some very fine choral singing got things off on a celebratory note. The Master of Ceremony Albertina Palalane then introduced the seven speakers who would talk about their own connections with CISM.

Leonardo Simão, EDCTP High Representative for Africa and Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the Manhiça Foundation, pointed out that the history of the centre dated back to an agreement between Spain and Mozambique signed in 1996. He then handed over to Lidia Cardos, the Deputy Minister of Health. She said that the first discussions between the two countries took place in 1980. Now CISM had many achievements that it could be proud of. The findings of its research have had an impact on the health and wellbeing of the population of Mozambique and beyond. It is now a WHO reference laboratory for infectious diseases that pose challenges in many countries. She also referred to CISM’s role in research on the Haemophilus influenze B vaccine, which is now in wide use across the world. Cooperation with Spain has brought many benefits but, importantly, the research programme is aligned with Mozambique’s own priorities. Spain’s role in capacity building is also appreciated. The recently signed new agreement between the two countries was very good news. She congratulated the centre on its 25th Anniversary!

Alberto Cerezo, Spain’s Ambassador to Mozambique then addressed the meeting, saying that today we were celebrating a success story! Spain is proud to have provided support to CISM, but the success of the Centre has also required strong commitment from the Mozambique government. The centre has always focused on health issues that are urgent threats. He highlighted its studies on H. influenzae B and also the centre’s malaria research programme, including vaccine use in pregnant women. Outstanding challenges included recruiting and training more national talent, and up-scaling the level of commitment. The signing of last week’s agreement has shown that Spain remains committed to supporting the centre.

Cristina de Jesus Xavier, Administrator of the Manhiça District, was the next to speak. She congratulated CISM, saying the district was proud to host the centre. The district was fortunate to have the personnel of the centre in its area and appreciates the role it has played locally, for example in surveillance and in the reporting of deaths. It has also worked in the district on sanitation, including toilet construction. CISM keeps in regular contact with local health management committees. It is now helping in the identification of cases of COVID-19. Local employment has also been generated. However, the centre’s work helps not just Manhiça District but also the province, the whole country, and the world.

Pedro Alonso of the WHO Global Malaria Programme then joined the meeting online, having been described by Leonardo Simão as one of the pioneers of malaria research. Expressing his regret not to be at the Forum in person, he said that over the last 25 years the life-expectancy gap between rich and poor nations had been narrowed, though it is still at an unacceptable level. Twenty-five years ago, 90% of world research was focused on needs of the wealthier nations. Since then, WHO and other organisations have tried to reduce inequality and to target the needs of the poorer nations. He recalled his early conversations with Pascoal Mocumbi, who had played a major role in changing the priorities in health research policy. Dr Mocumbi was keen that CISM should be located in a rural area where the needs were at their very greatest. Professor Alonso referenced the global health goals and the Roll Back Malaria programme – CISM has always been an important part of such work. It is important that Mozambique actually owns the centre; the leadership of Mozambique government is key to its success. He noted that in the Manhiça District itself the centre had helped reduce child death rates and the incidence of many infections, but the impact of its work was felt much further afield

Next to speak was Antoni Plasència, Director of the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), who described the important links (first established by Professor Alonso) between his institute and CISM. He has acted to strengthen those links and he commented that, ‘We have Mozambique in our hearts’. Links between institutions will play a vital part in addressing issues that include, not only health, but also social injustice and climate change

Eusébio Macete, former Director of Manhiça Health Research Centre said that the selection of priority areas for research was central to the work of the centre. Training is also key. Research findings must be put into practice. It is a matter of social responsibility to assist in the community where CISM is based. Partnerships are important in health research but the choice of partners is also a key issue. Partnerships needed to be mutual if they were to be sustained.

EDCTP Executive Director Michael Makanga then gave a short address that clearly summarised what had been said in the session. CISM is now celebrating 25 years of accumulated experience. Why, he asked, should investment be made in such a research centre? Answering his own question, he spoke first of the direct relationship between research and socioeconomic issues; research generates solutions that are transformative and CISM generates evidence that will help people in Mozambique and beyond. Secondly, he noted the importance of research centres in improving disease surveillance systems are key. And thirdly he summarised CISM’s role as a reference lab and the global importance of its research findings in: malaria, H. influenzae B, rotavirus, pneumococcal disease artemisinin combination therapy (especially in pregnancy) and HIV diagnosis in children. If we want to do better economically we need to put money into biomedical research! He thanked the Mozambique government for all that it has done but called on it to invest more.

Leonard Simão thanked all participants and the meeting was then treated to another powerful choral performance.