Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute Marks 10th Anniversary

By - NOV. 16, 2011

The following are Mayor Bloomberg’s remarks delivered at the 10th anniversary of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute.

“Thank you very much, Dr. Klag.

“To those of you who may not be familiar with Dr. Klag’s leadership of the Bloomberg School of Public Health, let me say: What makes him such a great leader is that he has the rare gift of inspiring everyone – from the newest student to the most senior researcher – and making each one feel that he or she is vital to the school and its mission.

“And to those who are here today from Baltimore, from Zambia and from points in between: Welcome to New York. While you’re here, as Mayor I urge you to enjoy all our great city has to offer. See the sights! Do some shopping! Take in a show! And spend lots of money! We can really use the sales tax revenue. Wherever you are from: Thanks for joining us to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute.

“Ten years ago, the Institute was nothing more than a glimmer in the eye of Dr. Klag’s predecessor as dean of the Bloomberg School of Public Health: The ever-persuasive and ever-persistent Dr. Al Sommer. Under its first director, Dr. Diane Griffin – who’s also with us today – and now under the direction of Nobel laureate Dr. Peter Agre – whom you’ll hear more from later – The Institute has become an increasingly important force in what researchers there call our “forever war” with Malaria. If you go back and look at bones from the Roman days, two things are clear. They all had lead poisoning, so Nero really was crazy, and they all had Malaria. A lot of them did. And when they drained the swamps in Rome, Malaria went away. The secret benefit of the Panama Canal was they drained the swamps, and unfortunately you just can’t do that all over the world.

“That’s evident in the ever-broadening scope of the Institute’s work. Ten years ago, it consisted of exactly two researchers. Since then, the Institute has assembled the most gifted team of researchers dedicated to eliminating malaria, with 25 faculty members and approximately 200 young scientists and staff working very hard – both in Baltimore and in Africa. Their work runs the full gamut, from the frontlines of public health to the frontiers of genomic engineering.

“Ten years on, we’re in no position to declare victory over malaria; far from it. But in that past 10 years, we’ve advanced toward that victory. We’ve got a clearer idea of where and how to concentrate our work.

“And we’ve seen promising advances in a range of areas: From research into vaccines, to countering the spread of drug-resistant malaria, to a program of highly effective surveillance and control of malaria in Zambia. To the most radical and exciting project of all: the effort to build a better mosquito – meaning one that’s malaria-resistant – in the Institute’s labs.

“Now the deadly impact that Malaria has around the world is the reason that I became so involved in this issue, and why others including Bill and Melinda Gates have made it a priority as well. And the Gates really have tried to do everything they can, and they should be congratulated on all of their largesse and all their work. But even with the progress we’ve made over the past decade, consider this: Over the next 12 months, up to 10% of the men, women, and – especially – children on Earth will contract malaria.

“Approximately one million will die – most of them children. Many millions more of those who survive will face lives marred by epilepsy, blindness, hearing loss, or often severe learning disabilities. Some 40% of the world’s population is at risk for malaria – a percentage that is steeply higher in sub-Saharan Africa. Each year, malaria kills 5% of African children – an average of 3,000 children a day. Each year, Malaria kills five percent of African children, an average of 3,000 children a day, as you saw on the film. And worldwide, the most common age of death from Malaria is four years old. Just think about that. If it was your child, what would you do?

“That makes defeating malaria one of the consummate public health challenges in the world – a challenge that time and again has defied our best efforts. In fact, the challenge of defeating malaria poses endless questions – many of them surprising ones.

“For example: Who would believe that scientists have actually set out to create a new life-saving partnership with an insect we’d all just as soon see dead?

“I am speaking, of course, of the mosquitoes – and specifically the females of certain malaria-carrying species – who introduce the malaria parasite into human blood. Because one of the most promising avenues of malaria research involves genetically engineering a mosquito that can resist, and kill, the parasite itself: Short-circuiting its life-cycle before it reaches us. Doing that would be an enormous achievement, and it’s one that Institute scientists are making exciting headway on.

“One of the institute’s gifted research teams has also now modified the mosquito in ways that would dramatically interfere with its ability to transmit malaria from one individual to another.

“Other teams are working on other modifications that are also promising. And testing is now underway to determine if such modifications could be a viable, and environmentally sustainable, way to attack malaria. There is still a long way to go before we get there – but there’s no doubt that the Institute is making groundbreaking and incredibly encouraging progress.

“The work of the Malaria Research Institute is designed to attack the disease along the broadest possible front. It marries lab research and public health outreach. Not because that approach is easy – but because it’s hard, and also because it happens to be the only one with any hope of success.

“And while the Institute is now 10 years old, in many ways its work is still in its early stages. But like the comprehensive tobacco control program and healthy diet initiatives we’ve launched here in New York City. And like the global initiatives Bloomberg Philanthropies actively support to discourage smoking, increase traffic safety in the world’s developing nation and expand sustainable environmental policies in a wide range of cities the work of the Institute is designed to meet the simple objective of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health:

“Promoting health and savings lives – millions at a time. I can’t think of a more important, or rewarding, mission. So let me wish Dr. Agre, Dean Klag, and their colleagues a happy anniversary.

“Have a great symposium here today. And then, let’s get back to work. God bless.”


An international leader on public health and the WHO global ambassador for noncommunicable diseases, Mike works to create better, longer lives for the greatest number of people.


The science is clear: employ data-driven approaches to large public health problems and death and illness rates fall.