Smart tactics crucial to win war on malaria
Experts highlight importance of investment in intelligent approaches on World Malaria Day
Smarter tactics and investment in evidence-based interventions are urgently needed to sustain the gains in the fight against malaria, according to experts from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.
On World Malaria Day (25 April), leading researchers say they are confident that the war is being won, but call for more intelligent approaches to continue to save lives without wasting money.
One intervention developed by experts at the School and recently recommended by WHO is seasonal malaria chemoprevention, a preventative approach which gives all children a monthly treatment dose of anti-malarial drugs during the high malaria transmission season.
Sir Brian Greenwood, Professor of Clinical Tropical Medicine, said: “Seasonal malaria chemoprevention is similar to what tourists do as a preventative measure. Clinical trials in Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana and the Gambia, have shown this approach will reduce malaria by 80 per cent.”
Dr Chi Eziefula, Clinical Research Fellow at the School, is currently undertaking a study on malaria transmission in Uganda which also demonstrates smarter thinking. The anti-malarial drug primaquine is being tested as a method of preventing the malaria-causing plasmodium parasite from being transmitted from infected humans back to the mosquitoes biting them.
Dr Eziefula said: “Malaria is transmitted from mosquito to man and back again from man to mosquito, and it’s that second part of the cycle we are interested in blocking. Most malaria drugs are targeted at the form of parasite that causes people to become ill and possibly die, but early on in the infection another form of the parasite called the gametocyte develops. This is harmless to humans but infectious to mosquitoes. This is what we are working to block.”
Whilst pioneering work is under way, experts are also anxious that gains made in the fight against malaria to date are not lost due to a lack of funding, both in the lab and on the ground with health practitioners.
Dr Jo Lines, Reader in Vector Biology and Malaria Control, said: “In the last five years, we have made great gains in malaria control through international investments in bednets. Hundreds of millions of nets have been distributed and hundreds of thousands of children’s lives have been saved. But these nets are now worn out, and unless we replace them, we will lose what we gained. In the midst of a financial crisis, international commitments for funding beyond 2013/14 don’t look very good. We are threatened with an awful lot of lives being lost unless those investments are sustained.”
Speaking at the All-Party Parliamentary Group meeting for World Malaria Day this week, Minister for International Development Stephen O'Brien said: “Tackling malaria is a key priority for the UK Government, and it is totally unacceptable that hundreds of thousands still die from this disease, which is why we will continue to invest in malaria prevention, diagnosis, treatment and research to keep up the progress we have made so far. Above all we need evidence of what works on the ground and how we're actually saving lives in order to secure the funding we need.”
A series of videos have been produced for World Malaria Day 2012:
- Brian Greenwood explains how seasonal malaria chemoprevention could change prevention in parts of Africa
- Jo Lines makes a call for sustained support of the world programme to prevent malaria
- Chris Drakeley explains how targeting malaria "hot spots" makes it easier to eliminate the disease from Africa and other regions
- Clare Chandler describes her research on techniques for improving the effective use of anti-malarial drugs by both patients and health workers
(Image: Patients waiting to have rapid diagnostic blood tests for malaria at Makaa Pumwani Dispensary, Moshi, Tanzania. Credit: LSHTM)