Medical Research and Resistance in the Era of Malaria Eradication

Samantha Mendoza - Global Health Advocacy Intern - United Nations Foundation

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Kirsten Hanson, an associate professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, has dedicated most of her postdoctoral career to finding an intervention to malaria.

Despite tremendous progress in decreasing the incidence and deaths resulting from malaria since 2000, the disease still affects over 200 million people a year and claims over 400 thousand deaths. One approach to combat malaria consists of relentless research to develop drugs that treat or prevent the onset of the disease.

“When an infected mosquito bites a person, the parasite form that it transmits doesn’t go straight to the blood to cause an infection, it actually goes to the liver,” Hanson mentioned.

At this liver stage, the malaria parasite matures and is then released into the blood stream. It is at the blood stage that a person becomes infected and starts exhibiting symptoms. Dr. Hanson’s research aims at killing the parasite at this liver stage to prevent malaria from manifesting.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). [Life cycle of a malaria parasite]. Malaria Biology. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/malaria/about/biology/

 In addition to preventing the onset of the disease, targeting an intervention at this stage would break the transmission cycle as well as lower the possibility of drug resistance, which is more likely to develop at the blood stage.

 “The need for new medicines and continually innovating in [the drug discovery] field is crucial to make sure that we stay one or two steps ahead of the drug resistance, and it doesn’t overwhelm our current treatments”, Hanson asserted.

Parasite resistance will be one of many obstacles we will face in the quest to eliminate malaria. Furthermore, scientists like Dr. Hanson will be one of many players that will need to work together to reach this goal.

“I don’t think there’s one single intervention. Whether it be bed nets or a liver stage targeting prophylactic, nothing is ever going to be 100 percent in by itself. It’s the sum of all those efforts that’s really going to take us forward,” Hanson said remarked.

Joining the efforts against malaria are students across the country, such as UNA-USA members, advocating on their campuses for global health funding. These leaders will influence their congress members to support funding for the organizations that are out in malaria endemic countries or that conduct research on prevention tools and treatments.

“The advocacy is crucial, from the public health perspective I think of many global infectious diseases… The gains that we make can easily be lost”, Hanson said. “We must be continually keeping the pressure on these diseases and that only comes from not only the research standpoint, but from advocacy as well.”

The fight against malaria is not over. We encourage you to advocate to your members of Congress, and urge them to support full funding for the UN. Together, we can put an end to malaria once and for all. 

[1] World Health Organization. (2017, November). Malaria Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs094/en/
[2] World Health Organization.  (n.d.). Global Health Observatory Data: Malaria. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/gho/malaria/en/

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