Our plans to add Togoto the WHO list of Malaria Free- Countries… A never-been-done-before-in-Africa malaria pilot study.

Project Background:

After meeting with Togo’s Ministries ofAgriculture, Environment, Safety and Civil Aviation, Health and SocialProtection, and representatives from the University of Lomé, and The WorldBank, Assi le Assime: The Togo Development Partnership proposed a pilot study to eliminate the vector (mosquitoes) that transmits the parasite which causesmalaria through aerial spraying of a biopesticide. Sponsored by Assi le Assime(www.assileassime.org), and written by researchers from the Togoleseministries, the protocol will be submitted to the National Bioethics Committeefor review in 2018; when approved, the first phase of the study would begin inFall 2018.

The protocol team wrote:

“…the path to (malaria) elimination is still long because the efforts beingmade face a certain number of limitations. One of the limitations is routineand lack of ambition to attempt innovative or new strategies that were testedin certain regions of the world where malaria formerly raged. Specifically, howcan we proceed toward the elimination of malaria when vector control, one ofthe control methods on the forefront for tens of years is only limited toresidual indoor spraying? How do we understand that vector control by aerialspraying, significantly tried and true in certain countries in the world hasnot yet been introduced in Africa? ThisAmerican-Togolese innovative project is positions as an alternative pilotapproach and aims to eliminate malaria in Togo…”.

Data Analysis:

We will prepare the data analysis plan,andcreate an electronic case report form for both the mosquito and the human data. We will analyse the data from 6 collection sites in 2 zones (study andcontrol zones) for both humans and mosquitoes, to correlate the decrease inmosquitoes which carry the malaria parasite with the decrease in the incidenceof malaria in humans.

Data Collection and Storage:

We will use electronic data collectionforms, input onto tablets in the field, connected to a wifi network, and storedin the cloud, where it can be reviewed, verified, and analysed remotely.


The final protocol will be submitted to theTogolese Bioethics Committee on July 31, 2018.When approved, data capture will begin in September 2018 through November2019. Aerial application data will becollected from May through November 2019.

Hand in Hand with the People of Togo. Economic Development That Starts with Stopping Malaria

In an indigenous language of Togo called Ewe, Assi le Assime means hand-in-hand. To the people of this largely French speaking West African country, Assi le Assime: The Togo Development Partnership is the non-profit organization (NGO) that helps bring them hope.

Founded by Elizabeth Simonetti ’83 (PHARM/CLAS) Assi le Assime is forging partnerships in economic development to support efforts as diverse as fighting malaria, providing clean water, and teaching current food production techniques and small farm management.

For Simonetti, it’s a way for her to live her faith. By providing what she calls the four pillars of food, water, work, and prayer she is helping to eliminate poverty and disease for some of the approximately 7.6 million people who live in Togo, a small country nestled between Ghana and Benin on Africa’s Atlantic coast.

Malaria Control

The fight against malaria is crucial to her mission, Simonetti says, because the disease remains endemic in most parts of the world and its effects are often lethal.

“Malaria has killed more people in the history of mankind than all the wars and all other diseases, and Togo ranks in the top 10 countries for malaria morbidity. Because we’ve successfully eradicated the disease in the United States, it’s often overlooked by Americans as a continuing problem in less developed countries,” she says.

According to the World Health Organization’s 2017 world malaria report, there were approximately 216 million cases of malaria in 2016, with 90 per cent occurring in Africa. Worldwide, there were approximately 445,000 deaths from the disease in that time frame.

To this end, Assi le Assime is working with the Togolese Prime Minister, representatives from several of Togo’s government ministries, and researchers from the University of Lome’ in the nation’s capital to create a pilot study designed to eliminate the disease vector (female mosquitoes) via aerial spraying of a bio-pesticide.

The study protocol is due to be submitted to Togo’s National Bioethics Committee in July 2018. With the Committee’s approval, the first phase of the study will begin this fall. The aim is to decrease the incidence of malaria in the study zone by 90 per cent by the end of 2019. Following that, the results will be published with the hope the program will then be expanded to cover a much larger geographic area.

“What makes our study different,” says Simonetti, “is that rather than trying to develop vaccines or drug therapies, which other organizations are working on, we are trying to get right to the source to eliminate the mosquitoes that are carrying the disease. We really believe that vector control is the best solution. It worked in the United States and we believe it can work elsewhere.”

By eliminating the disease, which attacks red blood cells and robs them of their oxygen carrying capacity, an entire population will become healthier, leading to improved scholastic achievement among children and economic productivity among adults.

The Journey

Simonetti, currently serving as vice president of the UConn Pharmacy Alumni Association, comes from a family full of UConn School of Pharmacy graduates. Her background includes a BS in pharmacy and a BA in French Studies from UConn, a MA in general administration from the University of Maryland, and an Ed.D. from the University of Georgia’s Institute of Higher Education.

Her career led her to work in various capacities including as director of educational services for the American Society of HealthSystem Pharmacists and as director of continuing education and professional affairs at Mercer University’s school of pharmacy in Atlanta, Georgia. She also worked in pharmaceutical development at Roche Pharmaceuticals, then headquartered in Nutley, New Jersey.

“There is a wealth of knowledge, experience, and enthusiasm in Togo; they have written the protocol, and they are driving the review process. We have not created a protocol for them and said, ‘Here. This is what you should do.’ Instead, with the support that Assi le Assime can provide, combined with the efforts of the Togolaise who are immersed in the study of this disease, we’ve created a partnership that can make a real difference on a daily basis,” Simonetti says.

A devout Roman Catholic, experienced in pharmacy, and fluent in the French language, it seemed natural for her to spend her time with the Canossian Sisters of Italy, a missionary order that runs the Centre Medico Sociale Ste. Bakhita Medical Dispensary in Togo.

There, acting as staff pharmacist, she helped the medical staff switch patients from IV to oral therapy, introduced the practice of reconstituting oral antibiotics with distilled water – a new practice in Togo at the time — and counseled patients on the proper use of their medications. It was a perfect fit, and the seeds were planted for Simonetti’s next adventure.

She says that she had always felt a certain calling to help others, but when she eventually left Roche, she wanted to continue the relationship with the people of Togo that had begun several years earlier. That’s when she founded Assi le Assime.

Ongoing economic development

Simonetti explains that her organization works in partnership with grassroots organizations, corporations, other nonprofits, and universities to create economic opportunities for people who live in one of the poorest countries in the world. While some Togolaise are employed in the phosphate mining industry, and others work on cocoa and cotton plantations, there is still a great need for education and employment across much of the population.

“We take a capitalistic approach to eliminating poverty,” she says, “and that includes teaching people how to help themselves. For example, on our 4-hectare teaching farm, we have just completed a chicken facility that holds 1,000 hens. We will wholesale their eggs to women who will sell them in the marketplace in the town of Tovegan. In turn, those women will use their profits to pay their children’s school fees, to buy food, and to work their way out of poverty.”

Other projects on the teaching farm include how to use drip irrigation to grow crops year round – in both rainy and dry seasons. New in 2018 was the introduction of pigs in a facility designed for raising nutritious, disease free animals in humane conditions.

And, lest anyone think Simonetti isn’t committed to her work, she has offered to actually kiss a pig at an upcoming fundraiser in June called “Pigs, Pork, Pints” to be held in Derby, Conn. if the event meets its financial goal.

Further details about the work of Assi le Assime can be found on the organization’s website.

We grow lettuce…… and a lot more

Little lettuce seedlings …… look how cute they are! Bright green, all crowded together in barely enough soil to take root. And ready to be transplanted.

Yep— at ViAgri, we grow nutritious organic food for the local market.
As we worked on the farm, I thought “What else do we grow?”
Wegrowinnovation: since we don’t have trowels, we use machetes to transplant our seedlings.
We grow opportunity for women earn their way out of poverty by selling our eggs in the marketplace.
We grow solutions to overcoming poverty.
We grow independence, teaching farmers how to produce better, more nutritious food.
We grow friendships, one badass project at a time.

We grow.Every day.

Just dig deeper

How can we possibly turn this wild tract of land into a farm? I doubt anyone’s even walked through it for 100 years. Its’ covered with wild grasses firmly rooted in the soil. There’s not even a footpath through it.

Where are we going to get water to run the farm? Especially in the middle of the dry season? Sure, there’s a little stream nearby, but it’s barely flowing in the dry season.

How are we going to make bricks to build the foundation for the new chicken coop if we don’t have water? We’ve got lots of sand and cement, but no water….. it’s the dry season.

How will these little seedlings– all crowded together in barely enough soil to take root—grow to mature plants in this blistering heat? (In fact, it was so hot today, that we didn’t even start working until 3 in the afternoon!) How are they going to make it?

As we waited for the afternoon breeze to kick in, I prayed. How would we do it? How would we set up this farm so we might teach others in Togo sustainable agriculture?

The answer: We just had to dig deeper.

We had to dig deeper into the soil, past the grassland roots, past the thick layer of leaves and organic matter, to overturn the thick, rich fertile soil.

We had to dig deeper — 150 meters deeper— to find enough water for a well that would nourish our farm in every season.

We had to dig deeper into the sand to release the water it held to make the bricks.

We had to dig deeper into the soil to replant our seedlings to let them grow into full sized plants.

And we had to dig deeper into our faith to believe that our needs on the farm have already been met by God’s gifts of land, water and sunshine.

Why? Why Togo? Why now? Why me?

In the 5th grade, my niece Claire Zielinski presented this composition, and won that year’s Oratorical Competition, St. Lawrence School, Shelton, CT

How would you feel if you had no medicine for the chicken pox or the flu? That is how kids in Africa feel. My Aunt Lizz saved some of those people’s lives. People like us! Kids, adults and even babies. People in Africa are suffering from many kinds of diseases. My Aunt, Elizabeth Simonetti, travelled to Africa to help people like that.

My Aunt Lizz has always wanted to help people. When she lived in Georgia, she taught Sunday school to four yearolds at her church. She also worked in a soup kitchen near her home in West Orange, New Jersey. But she wanted to do more. So she decided to go to Africa.

She works for company in New Jersey called. Hoffmann-La Roche. It is a Swiss company that makes drugs. They gave her a year off with pay to do this volunteer work. This is called a sabbatical.

Before she could go to Africa, she had to go through training for two months in Rome. She worked with the Canossian sisters and other people that were traveling to Africa.

After the training, she flew to Togo. Togo is a small nation on the west coast of Africa. It is a land of rain forests and plains. Togo is very poor. The average person makes only $900 per year. The people don’t have running water so they get water from a well. The well water is dirty so it makes them sick. The common diseases of Togo are tuberculosis, cholera, malaria, hepatitis, yellow fever and parasites. My Aunt Lizz wanted to help treat those diseases.

The diseases are so bad that even healthy people can get sick. When my Aunt first got to Togo, she got very sick. She spent a week in the hospital before she felt good enough to go to work. When she felt better, she began to organize the pharmacy and helped the doctors treat the patients. She helped teach boys and girls and their mothers how to use medicines properly. She taught them how to take them, when to take them, and why they were taking them.

People in Togo believe in Voodoo, which means they think if they give something to the gods, the gods will make them better. Voodoo does not work. The people who believed in it, spent so much time praying to their god that when they did go to the doctor, they were too sick to cure. The doctors try to save them, but sometimes it is too late.

One of my Aunt Lizz’s special memories was of a 15 year old boy she met. She took him to the library every day. The boy had never been to a library before. She got him a library card and let him take out books. I think she touched that boy’s life because it opened up a whole new world to the boy.

Aunt Lizz touched my life because she is an inspiration to me. When I think of the name “Elizabeth Simonetti,” I don’t just think of a woman or an aunt; I think of a hero. I want to be just like her when I grow up!

What’s for dinner?

Kodjo and his brother lived across the unpaved road from me. He said he was 15 years old, and he no longer went to school because he and his brother worked as carpenters to support themselves. When I asked him if he missed learning, he just shrugged and smiled. I saw him almost every day, on my way to and from work.

When we needed shelving units, we asked the brothers to build them—they delivered the shelving units in a couple of days, and we paid the brothers when they were delivered. It was a “win-win” exchange.

One Thursday night after dinner, we were talking and joking around. I told him how I cooked for the volunteers every Wednesday night, and how we shared the chores around the house. I asked him who was cooking at his house that night. “Are you cooking, or it is your brother’s turn to cook?” He laughed and shook his head. I commented that “I know how hard it is to work all day and come home to make dinner. So, is it your turn tonight? What are you making?” Again, he laughed and agreed that it was hard to work and cook.

All of a sudden (maybe it was the Spirit that came through his silly laugh to help me understand) I realized that no one at his house was cooking that night, because there was nothing in the house to eat. Neither he nor his brother would have dinner that night.

As I thought about Kodjo and his brother, I wondered how many others in Togo were asking themselves that night “What’s for dinner?”

Have you ever had the “feeling” that someone you know is wondering “What’s for dinner?” We can answer that question by teaching sustainable farming and animal husbandry practices to local farmers that that we might help feed the poorest of the poor. We hope that you’ll join us.