13 August 2010

Pinoy IT Wins Int'.l Essay Contest

Malaria Essay Contest
A 27-year-old Filipino information technology (IT) professional is one of the grand prize winners in the Novartis "World Briefing: Telling the Malaria Story" international essay-writing contest for graduate students, which involved more than 45 entries from around the world.

"I never expected to win. I just joined the contest to share my insights on malaria prevention and control," said Jennel Cheng, who is currently taking up Master of Science in Information Technology at the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) Graduate School.

In his essay, Cheng stressed that knowledge saves lives and declared his commitment "to develop new approaches in (increasing) public awareness" on malaria and "create a technology" that can prevent malaria-related deaths.

"People need to understand what malaria is. With prevention and proper treatment, malaria will no longer be a threat to human life… (and hopefully) become an extinct disease," he wrote.

Malaria is a highly preventable and treatable disease yet, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), nearly one million people die from malaria each year, mostly children.

It remains a major public health concern in the Philippines, where Department of Health (DOH) data show that the mosquito-borne disease is prevalent in 58 of the country's 80 provinces, mostly in the poorest municipalities.

Research-based Swiss healthcare company Novartis and Malaria No More, a non-governmental organization committed to ending malaria deaths in Africa, organized the contest to increase awareness on the prevention and treatment of malaria, and help build the coalition to ease the global malaria burden.

The contest involved graduate students up to 35 years old currently enrolled in an accredited university in the United States, Argentina, Ecuador, Italy, the Netherlands, Venezuela, and the Philippines.

Contest participants wrote an essay in English of 500 words or less that focused on the current malaria burden and ways in which their generation can make progress in the fight against malaria.

After reviewing entries from students all over the world, the contest sponsors selected Cheng as one of the three grand prize winners; the other two winners are from Belgium and the Netherlands.

Along with the other two winners, Cheng will travel with the Novartis team in October to Zambia, a malaria-endemic country which has successfully reduced morbidity and mortality related to malaria by over 60 percent.

Zambia's remarkable success was achieved through improved medical care for malaria patients with treatments such as the Novartis breakthrough antimalaria drug artemether + lumefantrine, as well as prevention tools including mosquito bednets and indoor residual spraying with insecticides.

Novartis will shoulder Cheng’s round-trip economy ticket to Zambia and all trip-related meals, lodging and transportation and appropriate out-of-pocket expenses.

While in Zambia, Cheng will be honing his reporting skills and blogging about his experiences, personal thoughts and ideas to a global digital audience.

He will be traveling to local clinics, meeting health care workers, and speaking to patients about life in a malaria-endemic country and the control efforts underway.

He may also meet with African and international journalists covering global health issues or attend presentations with top malaria researchers.

Upon his return from Zambia, Cheng plans to develop a website on malaria prevention and control that he hopes will help Filipinos "knock out this disease."

"Change must start from within us, and in that way each of us can truly be a great instrument of change. I am proud to have represented the Philippines in the contest, and I am proud to be a Filipino," Cheng said.