Information and stories about malaria.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation recently announced the names of some Grand Challenges Explorations Round 18 grant winners. Researchers from all over the world received $100,000 to develop ideas that can change the world. Out of four categories, one such idea is the Design New Solutions to Data Integration for Malaria Elimination. Among the recipients for this category is Dr. Helder Nakaya and his malaria GPS mapping idea.

Dr. Nakaya holds a Ph.D. in molecular biology and is an expert in systems vaccinology. His lab uses computational systems biology to study the root of infectious diseases. Additionally, he works as both an assistant professor at the University of São Paulo’s School of Pharmaceutical Science and as an adjunct professor at the Emory University School of Medicine’s Department of Pathology.

His idea is to extract the location history file on mobile phones to determine the geographic location of infection along with if the area is a breeding site for malaria. While it’s standard for doctors to ask patients to retrace their steps, the mosquito bite could’ve occurred at any point between 10-15 days prior to the symptoms appearing.

This information can easily slip the mind of anyone, especially for someone enduring the effects of malaria. However, the perfect recall of mobile devices proves extremely useful in fixing this human issue.

Security is a concern, but those fears are easily allayed. The file necessary for this project only tracks the phone’s physical location. Photos, texts, call logs, contacts and all other sensitive information is stored separately and will not be examined. Dr. Nakaya and his team assure patients that submitting the file is up to them and anonymous.

If the malaria GPS mapping project goes well, Dr. Nakaya and his team of scientists could receive up to $1 million dollars in additional funding. Other researchers hope to broaden the program to detect breeding grounds for other infectious diseases and viruses (such as Zika, chikungunya and dengue).

Another possible scenario is that Dr. Nakaya develops an app that updates in real time. It could help citizens navigate around hotspots and let city halls know where to disperse public agents to deal with the breeding grounds. In other words, this idea could (again) revolutionize the healthcare industry.

Jada Haynes

Photo: Flickr

Malaria Vaccine Trial
Malaria is one of the deadliest diseases afflicting developing countries across the world. In 2015 alone, it took the lives of 429,000 people, with a majority being African children. The most developed malaria vaccine trial is currently scheduled to be used in parts of Africa beginning next year, where the disease is still rampant.

Miguel Prudêncio and his team at iMM Lisboa, a biomedical research nonprofit institution, have been researching solutions to end malaria in the area. They decided to approach malaria as scientist Edward Jenner approached smallpox, by using a less harmful version of it as a shield against deadlier versions. In a similar fashion to how Jenner used cowpox to fight smallpox, Prudêncio and fellow researchers at iMM Lisboa wanted to conduct a malaria vaccine trial using a rodent version of the malaria-causing parasite. iMM Lisboa is going to carry out the trial with the help of the Radbound University Medical Center, based in the Netherlands, and PATH in Seattle.

The new malaria vaccine trial will take place at Radbounumc in the Netherlands. The first half of the trial will involve three groups of six volunteers, with each team enduring a different number of bites from mosquitos exposed to the parasite. Each volunteer will be thoroughly examined after the process because of the risk that comes from exposure. This examination will continue until the researchers can decide that it is safe to begin the second half of their malaria vaccine trial. The goal is that “the modified rodent parasite will help induce a protective response in healthy human volunteers.”

This will be the first time that humans will be purposely introduced to the rodent version of the parasite. The volunteers’ reaction to the first part of this malaria vaccine trial will be a deciding factor as to the effectiveness of this approach. With luck, the second phase will prove that smallpox is not the only disease that can be fought off by genetically modified versions of itself.

The success of this malaria vaccine trial could mean saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the future. Ultimately, the goal is to see malaria eradicated just like smallpox, but in upcoming years it will be a breakthrough if a vaccine is developed with a protective efficacy of at least 75 percent against malaria. Prudêncio and his fellow researchers are hoping to achieve the elimination of malaria once their vaccine trial is complete.

Mackenzie Fielder

Photo: Flickr

Malaria in Sri Lanka
In the mid 20th century, Sri Lanka lied among the most malaria-stricken countries in the world. However, in September 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) certified the successful elimination of malaria in Sri Lanka. A remarkable public health achievement, Sri Lanka is the second country in South East Asia to eliminate malaria (the Maldives being the first).

Eighty percent of Sri Lanka’s population lives in rural areas– the ideal environment for the mosquito species Anopheles culicifacies, the main vector of malaria in the region. The Plasmodium falciparum parasite causes the disease and is carried by Anopheles mosquitoes that feed on the blood of humans.

For seven decades, the country prioritized making the nation malaria-free. Malaria in Sri Lanka soared in the 1970s and 1980s, and the nation started an anti-malaria campaign in the 1990s. A strategy targeted the parasite in addition to the mosquito.

In 1991, the country’s number of cases of malaria reached up to 400,000. The country’s civil war put soldiers in the most vulnerable positions, with 115 people dying from malaria in 1998.

At the end of the war in 2009, Sri Lanka’s Minister of Health launched a malaria elimination program, funded in part by the Global Funds to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The campaign included mobile malaria clinics in high transmission areas with effective surveillance, community engagement and health education.

This program enhanced the ability of the authorities to respond. Ever since the implementation of this campaign, the introduction of high surveillance maintains the elimination of the parasite in Sri Lanka.

The eradication of malaria in Sri Lanka raised the hopes of 30 other nations to end the disease that kills 400,000 people every year. As the director of the WHO’s Global Malaria program stated, the island country demonstrated that any government can eliminate malaria with improved efforts.

Aishwarya Bansal

Photo: Flickr

Malaria Epidemic in Indonesia Women Fight
Global organizations have made significant strides in fighting the malaria epidemic in Indonesia by focusing on the health and welfare of pregnant women and children.

In an article published by IRIN, William Hawley, a malaria expert with the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), highlighted the importance of malaria treatment and prevention against the disease.

“Pregnant women and children are especially vulnerable to malaria, and modern malaria diagnosis and prevention can be delivered via existing maternal health and immunization services in a symbiotic way,” Hawley said.

World health organizations such as UNICEF have been working closely with Indonesian government agencies and world health programs to provide free and affordable care to women and children in the region.

“The malaria program, the antenatal care program, and the expanded program on immunization all benefit, but most important — women and kids benefit,” Hawley said.

According to the article by IRIN, nurses and midwives have been helping pregnant women and infants fight malaria by providing diagnosis, treatment and information regarding the disease. In response, more women have been provided antenatal care and more children have been immunized against malaria.

The Harsh Effects of the Malaria Epidemic in Indonesia

Malaria is a disease spread by mosquitoes causing symptoms including fever, exhaustion, vomiting, and headaches. Severe cases generally include yellowing of the skin, seizures, coma, or, in the most extreme instances, death.

The disease can be more dangerous to pregnant women and infants causing stillbirths, low birth weight, abortion and infant mortality. Malaria can also cause severe respiratory problems in both adults and children.

According to a report published by the World Health Organization (WHO), out of a population of close to 260 million, 190 million people were reportedly malaria free in 2015. This comes after a significant number of cases were reported between 2009 and 2012.

With the help of finances provided by the Global Fund, WHO, and UNICEF, residents of Indonesia have access to preventative measures against the disease in the form of mosquito nets, insect repellents, and insecticides. Residents are also taught the importance of mosquito control measures such as draining water to prevent reproduction.

According to a report by the CDC, with funding from UNICEF, USAID, the Gates Foundation and the Ministry of Health (MOH), many preventative programs have been integrated into immunization and prenatal care programs in five provinces in eastern Indonesia.

These organizations hope to expand to all areas where the disease continuously occurs to help fight the malaria epidemic in Indonesia.

Drew Hazzard

Photo: Flickr

Malaria — a disease caused by plasmodium parasites and transmitted by a mosquito bite — kills about 429,000 infected people every year. Though it can be treated easily for those who readily have access to healthcare, those who do not are often left to suffer. Unfortunately, sub-Saharan Africa is home to warm climates that attract the principal malaria mosquito, Anopheles gambiae. This leaves the citizens vulnerable to infection.

Malaria often cripples adults and children, forcing those infected to cease working or attending school. People disperse to less economically stable areas due to the fear of being infected; it even scares off potential investors and tourists. The money that the government and its citizens have to set aside for medical costs takes an enormous toll on the economic growth of the affected regions. Direct costs (illness, treatment, premature death) have been estimated to be at least $12 billion per year.

The U.S. recognized the devastating effects of malaria in Africa and decided to take action. In 2005, the Bush administration launched the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI), which strives to reduce malaria-related mortality by 50 percent across sub-Saharan Africa.

At the end of April 2015, the PMI released its eleventh annual report to the U.S. Congress detailing the initiative strategy for 2015-2020. The report outlines how the President’s Malaria Initiative will work with national malaria control programs to accomplish the following by 2020:

  • Reduce malaria mortality by one-third, achieving more than 80 percent reduction from PMI’s original 2000 baseline levels.
  • Reduce malaria morbidity by 40 percent in PMI-supported countries.
  • Assist five PMI-supported countries to meet the World Health Organization’s criteria for national or sub-national pre-elimination.

To achieve these objectives, PMI will approach five areas:

  1. Mitigating risk against the current malaria control gains.
  2. Building capacity of health systems.
  3. Improving capacity to collect and use information.
  4. Sustaining scale of proven interventions.
  5. Adapting to epidemiology and incorporating new tools.

The PMI aims for the gradual eradication of malaria by 2040-2050. With the help and continued funding of the PMI, malaria will be on the road to eradication in sub-Saharan Africa — along with the social and economic losses caused by the disease.

Vicente Vera

Photo: Flickr

Among other diseases endemic to the region, malaria presents a constant danger in sub-Saharan Africa. While the disease continues to spread, new methods and technology are utilized to contain and treat it. Habiba Suleiman Sefu, a malaria surveillance officer, stands on the front lines of this fight on the archipelago of Zanzibar, off the coast of Tanzania.

Malaria is by far the deadliest disease known to mankind, killing more than 1,000 children a year. Most victims of the disease live in sub-Saharan Africa, in moist, humid regions where disease-carrying mosquitoes thrive. While the disease is not contagious, it is blood-borne and can spread quickly in areas with poor sanitation and standing water.

Historically, malaria in Zanzibar has been a constant danger, as it is the leading cause of death in mainland Africa. In 2000, malaria accounted for 30 to 50 percent of all hospital admissions and approximately half of all hospital deaths.

Sefu, 29, is an environmental science graduate and works as a malaria surveillance officer in the village of Shikani, in the southwest region of Zanzibar. Habiba tracks and treats malaria on the archipelago using her tablet, mobile phone and motorcycle, all supplied to her by the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI).

When a case of malaria is reported at the local clinic in Shikani, Sefu receives an SMS message on her mobile phone. She then visits the family of the patient and tests them for the disease. If it is detected, she distributes medication and encourages affected individuals to go to the hospital.

In addition to treating malaria, Sefu educates families on the disease and makes certain that they are aware of contributing risk factors. She makes sure that families understand the importance of intact mosquito nets, insecticide, and the elimination of standing water, which provides a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Sefu represents a new generation of disease control, utilizing new methods and technology to target malaria at its source and stop outbreaks before they begin. These new methods of malaria identification and treatment have yielded unprecedented results in fighting the disease. In fact, the prevalence of malaria in Zanzibar was reduced from 40 percent in 2005 to less than one percent in 2012. In addition, hospital admissions for malaria decreased to less than five percent in 2012, and no malaria-related deaths have been reported in Zanzibar since 2009.

While malaria has historically been a problem in sub-Saharan Africa, places like Zanzibar are making great strides towards eradicating the disease through the use of new technology and tracking methods. These methods have effectively eliminated malaria in Zanzibar, and with the use of surveillance officers like Sefu, malaria can be similarly eradicated on the African mainland.

Chasen Turk

Photo: Flickr

Diseases in Benin
Benin is a relatively stable democratic West African nation that lies between Togo and Nigeria. There are a number of diseases in Benin putting the health of its residents at serious risk. Malaria and meningococcal meningitis are among the top diseases in Benin. Both are potentially life-threatening for individuals who become infected.

The Fight Against Malaria

Malaria is a severe and life-threatening blood disease transmitted through the bite of the Anopheles mosquito. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), malaria is considered to be one of the high-risk diseases in Benin, affecting all areas of the country. As a result, it recommends that all potential travelers into the country get vaccinated prior to entering.

There are different mechanisms in place aimed at fighting against diseases in Benin. In 2005, the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) was created to help reduce the spread of malaria in particular. Researchers working in conjunction with PMI have found that malaria is currently the leading cause of health problems in Benin, and that it “accounts for 40 percent of outpatient consultations and 25 percent of all hospital admissions.” Consequently, families are forced to spend large amounts of money paying for treatments.

In response to this issue, PMI has been making progress in helping residents of Benin fight against malaria by providing residents with valuable resources such as trained healthcare workers, insecticide treatments, house-sprays and Rapid Diagnostic Tests. As of 2016, PMI has raised $155.2 million toward the effort.

The Fight Against Meningococcal Meningitis

In addition to malaria, meningococcal meningitis is another of the high-risk bacterial diseases in Benin. It is also common in other parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Meningococcal meningitis causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. It is typically transferred via person-to-person contact. Some common symptoms associated with the disease are vomiting, headaches, neck stiffness and fever.

Furthermore, it has also been classified as one of the high-risk diseases in Benin, particularly during December through June. The CDC has recommended that persons traveling to the country during these months get vaccinated to help protect themselves from contracting the virus.

In response to this epidemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has developed a strategy to help reduce the spread of meningococcal meningitis in Benin and surrounding countries. The WHO strategy consists of vaccinating everyone under 29 in the African meningitis belt with the MenA conjugate vaccine, and using “prompt and appropriate case management with reactive mass vaccination of populations not already protected through vaccination.”

Lael Pierce

Photo: Flickr

Toy Inspires Low-Cost Lab Aid to Detect Malaria
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted through the bite of an infected mosquito. In 2015 alone, there were 212 million cases of malaria and 429 thousand deaths. Suffice it to say that malaria is a global health problem.

Even worse is that Sub-Saharan Africa continues to carry a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2015, the region was home to 90 percent of malaria cases and 92 percent of malaria deaths.

The good thing is that malaria is preventable and curable, given the proper tools to do so. A device called a centrifuge that spins a blood sample very quickly and separates different cells can detect malaria. Centrifuges, though, are expensive, bulky and require electricity – which makes it inefficient in regions such as Sub-Saharan Africa.

A low-cost lab aid to detect malaria is in dire demand, which is exactly what Manu Prakash, a professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, realized on a trip to Uganda. On his trip, Prakash says he found centrifuges used as doorstops because there was no electricity.

Back in California, Prakash experimented with spinning toys in his search for a model for a low-cost lab aid to detect malaria. Though toys are not the conventional approach to developing a lab aid, Prakesh argues that toys hide profound physical phenomena we take for granted.

After experimenting with several spinning toys, including a yo-yo, they stumbled upon the children’s toy known as the whirligig or buzzer. The toy is made of a disk that spins when the strings that go through it are pulled.

This new low-cost lab aid to detect malaria dubbed the paperfuse, can separate pure plasma from whole blood in less than 1.5 minutes, and isolate malaria parasites in 15 minutes. The paperfuse has an ultra-low-cost of fewer than 20 cents, weighs only two grams and is, therefore, field-portable. The paper fuse could be the tool that helps detect and end malaria in low-income countries in the near future.

Mayan Derhy

Photo: Flickr

Five of the Top Diseases in Greece
Though often envisioned as an ideal vacation spot, home to thousands of sites, islands and beaches, Greece is not exempt from the list of countries affected by diseases, and it is necessary that travelers be aware of this.

  1. Coronary Heart Disease
    According to WHO, Coronary Heart Disease (CHD) is one of the top diseases in Greece, responsible for 26.17% of the country’s total deaths. Statistically, CHD occurs in men between the ages of 50 to 79, and in women ages 70-79. Controllable factors include arterial hypertension, diabetes, dyslipidemia, obesity, smoking and lack of physical activity. Non-modifiable factors include gender, age and family history of premature CHD.
  2. Stroke
    Falling second in the list of top diseases in Greece, mortality from heart disease and strokes has reached 35,000 deaths per year, which is high compared to other regions like Portugal or Spain. As a result, life expectancy for Greeks has fallen. Statistics showing 33% of adults smoking daily and 19.6% of the population being overweight or obese contribute to the issue.
  3. Malaria
    In 2011, a total of 20 cases of malaria occurred among Greek residents in the Evrotas, Laconia district, caused by the parasite Plasmodium vivax. The following year, 17 additional locally acquired cases were reported. According to the Centers for Disease Control, it is recommended that travelers take an anti-malarial medication and follow insect protection measures to reduce the risk of mosquito bites.
  4. Legionnaires’ disease
    A total of 14 cases of Legionnaires’ disease were reported on the island of Corfu in 2011. Legionnaires’ disease is a bacterial infection that typically causes pneumonia but can also involve other organ systems. The disease is usually transmitted through contaminated water sources, such as air conditioners and showers. Common symptoms include fever, cough, chest pain, difficulty breathing, headache, muscle pains and diarrhea.
  5. West Nile virus
    An outbreak of West Nile virus infections surfaced in 2010, causing 262 confirmed cases and 35 deaths. West Nile virus is carried by Culex mosquitoes. Most infections are mild but can affect the central nervous system, leading to fever, headache, confusion, lethargy, coma and in most serious cases, death. Because there is no treatment for West Nile virus, prevention methods should be taken by keeping cover and applying insect repellents.

For both locals and visitors, such recent outbreaks emphasize the importance of taking safety precautions and preventing further transmission of top diseases in Greece. Since most of these illnesses cannot be cured, undergoing certain treatment methods or making lifestyle changes help with recovery.

Mikaela Frigillana

Photo: Flickr

Elimination of Malaria by 2040: How Developing Countries Benefit
Malaria is a parasitic condition that is contracted primarily through the bite of an infectious Anopheles mosquito. Currently, sub-Saharan Africa suffers from the greatest disease burden of malaria as a consequence of widespread poverty and poor living conditions.

Malaria has serious social and economic implications. It is estimated that each year, Africa incurs a health care cost of $12 billion as a result of malaria. This cost imposes a significant strain on the continent’s financial resources. It also forces compromises to be made in other aspects such as a provision of schooling facilities and treatment of debilitating infections.

The elimination of malaria has always been an important but elusive objective of the global health care movement. Despite years of investment in research, no vaccine is currently available that offers complete protection against malaria. According to the World Health Organization, efforts are being focused on developing a clinically efficacious vaccine that protects against the most serious variant of malaria that is caused by the parasite Plasmodium falciparum.

Recently, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a humanitarian organization aimed at improving lives of the poor, has declared an ambitious objective: to eliminate malaria by the year 2040. The organization aims to achieve this goal through increased involvement of world leaders in the process of ending malaria. The foundation also aspires to involve countries afflicted with malaria in the movement by encouraging them to implement local strategies to tackle malaria.

The motive behind the movement is simply the fact that if malaria is not eliminated completely, countries could be tirelessly working toward the development of new vaccines, medications and prevention strategies to contain the spread of cases. This is not an economically viable solution for controlling malaria transmission — it represents a drain on valuable health care resources that can be used for the treatment of other life-threatening conditions such as cancer.

Increasing drug resistance of the organisms involved in the causation of malaria has limited the effectiveness of strategies targeted at the elimination of malaria. Currently, in Seattle, several research projects are experimenting with novel methods such as genetic modification to eliminate malaria.

With approximately 3.2 billion individuals globally estimated to be at risk of malaria, it is essential to control the spread of this disease. Malaria tends to be concentrated in regions of poverty, further exacerbating standards of living. As a result of the increasing connectivity of the world and the ease of access to different countries, travel has further increased the risk of spread of malaria to countries that are not typically affected by the condition.

The elimination of malaria by 2040 is a glorious yet difficult objective to achieve. Implementing pragmatic measures over the next few decades such as increasing awareness about malaria, improving sanitation and hygiene in poor countries, and prevention campaigns can bring us one step closer to the complete eradication of malaria.

Tanvi Ambulkar

Photo: Flickr