All posts by Bill Brieger

Refugees and Malaria

June 20th is World Refugee Day.  The United Nations explains that, “Refugees are among the most vulnerable people in the world. The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol help protect them.” This protection includes the right to public relief and assistance, and in that context the UN High Commission for Refugees aims to provide refugees with “clinics, schools and water wells for shelter inhabitants and gives them access to health care and psychosocial support during their exile.” Major physical health problems and symptoms of internally displaced persons in Sub-Saharan Africa included were fever/malaria among 85% of children and 48% of adults.

Many of today’s refugees are located in malaria endemic areas of the world, and movement from familiar areas to uncertainly increases refugees’ exposure to malaria. As the Roll Back Malaria Partnership noted, “exposure to malaria is significantly increased when moving from low- to high- transmission areas, because they have no acquired immunity and frequently little knowledge of malaria prevention or treatment.”

Efforts to prevent malaria among refugees who came from South Sudan in in Northern Uganda is crucial as they experience malaria as one of their major health problems. This led to the provision of intermittent preventive treatment for malaria (IPTc) in two refugee camps among children aged 6 months to 14 years through help from Médecins Sans Frontières.

In Australia guidelines for assessing needs for services for refugees include an emphasis on person-centred care and risk-based rather than universal screening for hepatitis C virus, malaria, schistosomiasis and sexually transmissible infections.” Based on country of origin “refugees and asylum seekers to Australia and includes country-specific recommendations for screening for malaria, schistosomiasis and hepatitis C.” This includes use of malaria Rapid Diagnostic tests.

Efforts to reach refugee populations with insecticide treated bednets can be a challenge.  Studies in a displaced persons camp in the Democratic Republic of the Congo found that there was lower access to nets by camp dwelling children than those in nearby settled villages. Considering the high burden of malaria in the area the authors recommended increased attention to net distribution for these internal refugees.

World Refugee Day is a time for people in malaria national control/elimination programs to take note of the refugee and displaced populations within their boundaries and step up efforts to protect everyone.

 

Donate Blood, Not Malaria

June 14th is World Blood Donor Day. This year’s theme stresses the importance of donating now before a disaster strikes. This requires good storage facilities (and strong systems) in countries where disasters may occur,  which may not always be the case.  We know that blood donation facilities are concerned about testing for infectious diseases like HIV and Hepatitis C. What of malaria?

Studies have found that when people return to a non-endemic setting from malaria endemic countries, “Semi-immune individuals are more likely to transmit malaria as they may be asymptomatic” and serological data, not just circumstantial epidemiological information are also needed that if transmission through blood donations are to be prevented. There is also concern about the longevity of malaria infection depending on the species of Plasmodium in different parts of the world.

In endemic countries malaria antibodies can be present in basically all of asymptomatic adult blood donors. Unfortunately currently available screening assays appear unsuitable to minimize transfusion malaria.

Researchers in Brazil reported that, “The real-time PCR with TaqMan probes enabled the identification of P. vivax in a high proportion of clinically healthy donors, highlighting the potential risk for transfusion-transmitted malaria. Additionally, this molecular diagnostic tool can be adopted as a new laboratory screening method in haemotherapy centres, especially in malaria-endemic areas.”

Knowing the seasonal prevalence of malaria among blood donors in Bamako, Kouriba et al. suggest “A prevention strategy of transfusion malaria based on the combination of selection of blood donors through the medical interview, promoting a voluntary low-risk blood donation and screening all blood bags intended to be transfused” to vulnerable groups.

So while we recognize the life saving importance of adequate blood donations and supplies for transfusion, we also stress the importance of blood safety and expand our horizons to the possibility that malaria may be one of the potential problems shared with blood.

World No Tobacco Day – except to make malaria drugs

May 31st marks World No Tobacco Day. The Theme for 2017 is “Tobacco – a threat to development.” According to WHO, “Tobacco control has been enshrined in the Sustainable Development Agenda. It is seen as one of the most effective means to help achieve SDG target 3.4 of a one-third reduction globally, by 2030, of premature deaths from  noncommunicable diseases (NCDs).” Control is also associated with positive environmental and anti-poverty outcomes.

It is ironic then that the tobacco plant itself may be modified to produce life saving anti-malarial medicines. Nature reported that because Artemisia annua produces a precursor of the compound, artemisinic acid, only in low quantities, it is expensive to grow.  Consequently, “a team led by Ralph Bock at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam-Golm, Germany, inserted genes for artemisinic acid synthesis into tobacco plants’ chloroplasts — abundant organelles that have their own DNA. By adding ‘accessory genes’ that make artemisinic acid production more efficient, they created a line that pumps out 120 milligrams of artemisinic acid per kilogram of biomass.”

Science magazine followed up to report that although “several years ago researchers transplanted the drugmaking genes into yeast, allowing them to collect the compound from a microbial brew, the fermentation process is still relatively expensive.” Tobacco, on the other hand, is an “inexpensive, high-volume crop.” Inserting the right genes into tobacco, they noted, would enable “harvesting artemisinic acid from a plot of land 200 square kilometers—less area than a city the size of Boston—would provide enough artemisinin to meet the entire worldwide demand.”

Malhotra et al. discovered another novel approach that found that, “Partially purified extracts from the leaves of transgenic tobacco plants inhibited in vitro growth progression of Plasmodium falciparum-infected red blood cells. Oral feeding of whole intact plant cells bioencapsulating the artemisinin reduced the parasitemia levels in challenged mice in comparison with commercial drug. Such novel synergistic approaches should facilitate low-cost production and delivery of artemisinin and other drugs through metabolic engineering of edible plants.”

Another approach looks at malaria vaccines. Beiss et al. note that malaria “transmission blocking vaccine (TBVs) need to be produced in large quantities at low cost.” They found a high level  transient expression in fresh leaves of Nicotiana benthamiana of an effective TBV candidate. Likewise Jones et al. demonstrated the potential of the new malaria vaccine candidate and also support feasibility of expressing Plasmodium antigens in Nicotiana benthamiana.

The American Cancer Society observed that most African Countries are in the early stages of the tobacco epidemic. This may be a good time to switch the production of tobacco on the continent from purveyor of cancer and NCDs to a ‘factory’ for producing malaria medicines. The sooner this can be done, the better since artemisinin  resistance is a growing threat.

Ghana – spotlight on malaria indicators

The Demographic and Health Surveys has released a brief on key indicators from the Ghana Malaria Indicator Survey of 2016. While much of the malaria community is discussing the elimination framework and processes, the reality is that many high burden countries are still trying to scale up basic interventions to achieve universal coverage.

The overall prevalence across the country in children aged 6-59 months at the time of the survey was 27% using Rapid Diagnostic test and 20% using microscopy.  Among children reporting fever in the previous two weeks care/advice was sought for only 72%. Although only only 30% received some sort of blood based diagnostic test, 61% of the febrile children were given the antimalarial artemisinin-based combination therapy drugs.

Children are still being treated without the benefit of parasitological testing, a key procedure highlighted in WHO case management guidelines. Presumptive treatment for malaria without testing means that a child could inappropriately receive antimalarial drugs and die of another underlying febrile illness. Appropriate testing and adherence to test results is one of the main areas of focus of Ghana’s grants from the US President’s Malaria Initiative. Improved testing is also an important element in Ghana’s current Global Fund support. Clearly more value for money is needed from these inputs.

Preventive measures as documented in the MIS fare somewhat better., but at present only 73% of households own an insecticide treated bednet. When considering the recommended 1 net for every 2 household members, the indicator drops to 50%. Concerning the typical ‘vulnerable’ populations, we see that only 52% of children below the age of 5 years slept under an ITN the night before the survey; only 50% of pregnant women did likewise.

Malaria prevention in pregnancy results reflect the fact that Ghana has promoted at least three IPTp doses for around ten years. Most pregnant women (78% ) had received the previously recommended minimum of two doses, and now 60% have received at least three doses.

One of the important issues stressed in WHO’s new malaria elimination framework is stratifying the country by prevalence to the lowest level possible in order to plan appropriate interventions. Fortunately the Ghana 217 MIS key indicator brief does stratify prevalence and intervention coverage by region.  Prevalence through RDT testing ranges from nearly 5% in the urbanized greater Accra area to 44% in the Central Region. Interestingly ITN use is nearly 20% higher in Central than greater Accra.

Hopefully future planning in Ghana will build on this stratification. Better mobilization of donor, national and private sector resources will address likely issues of stock-outs and increase the likelihood of universal coverage of basic interventions that is needed to move the country along the road to malaria elimination.

Nepal on the Path to Malaria Elimination

Jhpiego’s Emmanuel Le Perru has been placed with Nepal’s malaria control program by the Maternal and Child Survival Program (USAID) to strengthen the agency’s overall response to malaria as well as ensure top performance of Nepal’s Global Fund Malaria grant. Emmanuel shares his experiences with us here.

From 3,000 cases in 2010, Nepal reported around 1,000 cases in 2016, including 85% Plasmodium vivax cases. However private sector reporting is almost null so number of total cases may be the double. Nepal’s National Malaria Strategic Plan (NMSP) targets Elimination by 2022 (0 indigenous cases) with WHO certification by 2026.

Ward Level Micro-stratification is an important step for targeting appropriate interventions. Key interventions in the NMSP include case notification system by SMS (from health post workers or district vector control inspectors) to a Malaria Disease Information System, later to be merged with DHIS2. Case investigation teams conduct case and foci profiling as well as “passive cases” active detection and treatment (including staff from district such as surveillance coordinator, vector control inspector, and entomologist).

Malaria Mobile Clinics actively search/treat new cases in high risk areas (slums, brick factories, river villages or flooded areas, migrant workers villages, etc.). PCR diagnosis with Dry Blood Spot or Whole Blood is used to identify low density parasite cases, relapses or re-introduction. Coming up in April-June 2018 will be a Pilot of MDA (primaquine) for Plasmodium vivax in isolated settings (80% of cases in the country are P vivax).

Recent successes in the national malaria effort include the number of cases notified by SMS went from 0% to 45%. Also the number of cases fully investigated went from 22% to 52%, though this needs to go up to 95% for elimination. 73% of districts are now submitting timely malaria data reports per national guidelines, an increase from 52% in November 2015.

The border runs right through this town making importation of malaria cases easy

The Global Fund (GFATM) malaria grant rating went from B2 to A2. Nepal Epidemiology Disease Control Division (EDCD), WHO and GFATM are keen to pilot MDA for P vivax in isolated setting which MCSP/Jhpiego Advisor taking the lead.

Moving forward the malaria elimination effort needs to address Indo-Nepal Cross boarder collaboration since 45% cases are imported. Hopefully WHO will help EDCD Nepal to propose a plan of action to India. The program still needs to convince partners of relevance of malaria mobile clinics vs community testing and of the relevance of MDA for P vivax. More entomological and PCR/laboratory expertise is needed. With these measures malaria elimination should be in sight.

Supporting Midwives to Prevent Malaria on International Day of the Midwife

Midwives play at least two crucial roles when it comes to saving the lives of pregnant women in malaria endemic areas. First as the health staff responsible for providing intermittent preventive treatment for malaria in pregnancy (IPTp), midwives can ensure that women do not suffer the consequences and complications of malaria in the first place. Secondly, knowing that we may not be able to reach all pregnant women with the full package of malaria interventions in a timely manner, midwives are there to save lives from the complications to the mother and fetus arising from malaria-associated anemia and low birth weight. Today we focus on prevention.

Today on the International Day of the Midwife is a good time to examine how to strengthen midwives’ roles in preventing malaria and protecting women from its consequences. This year’s theme, “Midwives, Mothers and Families: Partners for Life!” is in line with our overall concern about ending malaria through partnership at all levels.

In providing antenatal/prenatal care (ANC) in stable malaria endemic areas, midwives are tasked with ensuring that pregnant women get an adequate number of doses of IPTp at the right time in their pregnancy. Previously only two doses were required, but now a pregnant woman can receive IPTp monthly from the beginning of the second trimester. The ability of the midwife to attract women to ANC and ensure that once there gets the required doses can be daunting.

A study in Uganda found that many pregnant women did not get the full regimen of IPTp and learned that several factors were responsible. Midwives’ education level and professional experience had a positive effect. Management issues such as the availability of safe drinking water and the drugs for intermittent preventive treatment were crucial. “Midwives who provided frequent health education to pregnant women, cooperated with village health team members and received in-service training were likely to provide effective anti-malaria services to pregnant women.” In short there are training and management interventions that can enable midwives to protect pregnant women better.

Examination of malaria prevention in ANC clinics in Malawi showed that providers generally did have correct information about IPTp, but at times did know understand the exact timing of doses. They knew that those on HIV infection prevention prophylaxis should not take IPTp and that IPTp should be given as directly observed treatment, but in many clinics there were lack of official written guidelines to help them recall procedures post-training.

Again, we can see that a variety of learning and management interventions can help midwives prevent malaria. Additional work in Uganda has shown the valuable role midwives can play as community health educators in encouraging ANC attendance and thus IPTp uptake. They need full support from the health system to do this important outreach.

Insecticide Treated Nets in Malawi: Lessons from the 2015-16 Demographic and Health Survey

In 2000 the Abuja Declaration set a target of 80% coverage for people in endemic countries owning AND sleeping under nets by the year 2010. The United Nations came along in 2009 and upped the ante making the target “Universal Coverage.” Such targets were assumed to help countries meet the 2015 Millennium Development Goals for reducing malaria morbidity and mortality. So what happens when these dates pass and countries still have neither achieved nor maintained ITN coverage?

An example of the remaining challenges can be seen in the 2015-16 malaria section of the Malawi Demographic and Health Survey. The MDHS notes that while household ownership of nets increased from 27% in 2004 to 57% in 2010, it did not change between 2010 and 2015-16. This is despite efforts by the Ministry of health, The US President’s Malaria Initiative and the Global Fund, not to mention peer pressure from the members of the Southern African Development Community who are pushing a malaria elimination agenda.

Even though the actual availability of nets in the households did not increase recently, use or those available improved slightly. The MDHS explains that, “The ITN use among children under age 5 has increased over the years, from 15% in 2004 to 39% in 2010, and 43% in 2015-16. Among pregnant women, ITN use increased from 15% in 2004 to 35% in 2010, and 44% in 2015-16.” This shows some improvement in health education activities, but people cannot use the net that is not available.

Where do the nets come from? Among the nets found in surveyed households newly a third (32%) were acquired through a mass distribution campaign. Nearly half (47%) were acquired through a routine clinic visit such as antenatal care, child birth, immunization clinic and other clinic visits. The remainder were bought from shops or other places. This shows a good mix of distribution strategies. It is therefore, the volume of nets made available that is of concern, possibly more than the process, but further analysis by the national malaria program should examine all of these avenues to ensure efficiency.

An irony appears in the pie chart on net availability in households.  While 43% did not have any nets, another 33% did not have enough nets to meet coverage targets of one net per two people. This again poses serious access issues. Thus, it is not surprising that 13% of people who in theory have access to nets did not sleep under them.

Several other challenges were documented. Only 45% of the poorest segment of the population lived in households with nets, compared to 69% of the wealthiest. Similarly rural populations were less likely to sleep under ITNs (32%) than urban (42%). It would appear that more attention to equity in ITN programs is needed. Interestingly, urban households are more likely to purchase their nets from shops and markets than rural dwellers.

Good news is that the US President’s Malaria Initiative plans to help maintain coverage of pregnant women and children in the coming year through the procurement and distribution of ITNs through routine service channels with 1.2 million ITNs. In addition the Global Fund reports that over 7.7 million ITNs were distributed in Malawi in 2016 with it’s support.  Maybe these efforts will reflect in the next iteration of the DHS or MIS, but fluctuations in ITN availability do impact on disease transmission, and concerns about equity will remain.

The DHS and its sister survey, the Malaria Information Surveys are crucial tools for identifying challenges and planning ways to improve coverage of malaria interventions. Hopefully Malawi will be able to use this information to save lives.

Rwanda Celebrates World Malaria Day 2017 – community is a major focus

Dr. Noella Umulisa, the Malaria Team Lead or the USAID Maternal and Child Survival Program in Kigali Rwanda shares with us experiences from Rwanda’s recent observance of World Malaria Day 2017.

The Malaria Day celebration took place in Huye districts in the southern Province. Why the southern province? – because among the 10 high endemic districts, 6 are the southern province. Why Huye district? – because IRS has been launched in Huye district yesterday and in another district Nyanza in Southern province.

The ceremony was attended by USAID and WHO representative, local leaders, MOH staff, partners, population of Simbi sector and the guest of honour was Dr Jeannine Condo the Director General of Rwanda Biomedical Center (which houses malaria activities).

A special recognition was given to community health workers (CHWs) who are playing a key role and are on the front line of fighting Malaria through sensitization of the population, testing and treating the population through community case management (iCMM and HBM) of Malaria, and now when a big number of CHWs will be involved in spraying households in their community.

The World Malaria Day celebration in Rwanda is marked by different activities for Malaria prevention conducted at community level from 24th to 29th April 2017.  Also, Malaria prevention and control messages are being disseminated using different communication tools and approaches such as radio and TV programs, community outreach activities, educating communities on proper use of bed nets.

Door to door mobilization is being conducted about the Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) in high malaria burden districts of Huye and Nyanza. MCSP, with support from the US President’s Malaria Initiative, has participated actively in this event by supporting Community outreaches though theatre skits in the first 10 high endemic district.

The Director General made the following statement:

In January 2016, the Government of Rwanda and partners developed a Malaria Contingency Plan in response to the increase in malaria cases. The following interventions were implemented to address malaria rise in Rwanda: A Home Based Management of fever for adults at community level was set up countywide to reduce the malaria burden and prevent severe malaria and death. From Nov 2016 up to March 2017, the country distributed more than 6 million nets in 30 districts ensuring universal coverage of the entire population.

The country has increased access to health services for all through Community Based Health Insurance (CBHI). The Government of Rwanda provides free treatment of malaria to the most vulnerable population (Ubudehe 1&2 categories) to ensure that all financial barriers are no more to hinder the health service delivery for the community. Extension of Indoor residual spraying (IRS) in districts with high malaria burden where 5 out of 8 were sprayed (Nyagatare, Kirehe, Bugesera, Gisagara and Gatsibo).

We hope that this commitment will keep Rwanda on track to control and eventually eliminate malaria.

Preventing Malaria in Pregnancy – fill the coverage gaps

In a press release for World Malaria Day 2017, the World Health Organization called for the global community to “Prevent malaria – save lives” as part of the WHO push for prevention on World Malaria Day, 25th April. WHO recommended that, “Together with diagnosis and treatment, WHO recommends a package of proven prevention approaches, including insecticide treated nets, spraying indoor walls with insecticides, and preventive medicines for the most vulnerable groups: pregnant women, under-fives and infants.” This package has averted 663 million cases have been averted since 2001.

That said, WHO also identified gaps.

  • Approximately 69% of pregnant women in 20 African countries did not have access to the recommended 3 or more doses of preventive treatment.
  • An estimated 43% of people at risk (including pregnant Women) of malaria in the region were not protected by either a net or indoor insecticide spraying in 2015

This gap became evident on a recent visit to Ouargaye Health District in Burkina Faso where National Malaria Control Program and Jhpiego, with support from US President’s Malaria Initiative and USAID’s Mother and Child Survival Project, are setting up a pilot program to test community delivery of IPTp through the existing network of community health workers.

Normally IPTp is delivered as part of antenatal/prenatal care and the new project will use the ANC clinic as a base for training and supervising the CHWs. Health Statistics from the District from 2016 show the challenge that the community approach hopes to address.

Among the approximately 20408 pregnant women in the District, 75% attended ANC once, 67% twice, 58% more than thrice and 56% four or more times. At present IPTp coverage is lower than ANC attendance: 61% received one dose, 56% got 2, 41% received 3, 14% got 4 and only 3% received 5 or more doses.

The pilot project intends to use CHWs mobilize more women to register for ANC and get their first IPTp dose. Then the CHWs, under supervision of the health center staff will deliver additional doses at the appropriate monthly interval.

More and more health interventions, including integrated community case management, are moving into the community. Universal health coverage requires that the health system meet people where they are – let the health system adapt to the clients, not the clients adjust to the convenience of health workers. With this approach the gap in ANC attendance and IPTp coverage will hopefully close, saving more women’s lives through prevention.

Malaria Day 17 Years Later: Documenting and Investing to End Malaria

The first time the global community observed a day devoted to tackling the problem of malaria was April 25th 2001. This was agreed upon at the African Summit on Roll Back Malaria held in Abuja, Nigeria in 2000. The first seven annual observances were titled “Africa Malaria Day,” and recognized that the largest global burden of the disease affects people on the African continent. As thoughts moved toward elimination, the importance of addressing all endemic communities resulted in the first “World Malaria Day” in 2008.

Thus on April 25th 2017 we are observing the 17th Malaria Day overall and the 10th anniversary of World Malaria Day. This observance has been complimented over the years with a malaria day for the Southern African Development Community and for countries in the Americas.

Each year Malaria Day has had a theme or themes to help focus education and advocacy. Regardless of the theme, the special day has been a time to mark progress and rally partners from the global to community level to continue the fight against the disease. The list below shows some of the issues/themes raised on the past Malaria Days. As noted, in some years advocacy efforts dealt with more than one key idea, though all are not presented.

  • 2001 – Africa Malaria Day 2001: The First Africa Malaria Day; Malaria – A Crisis With Solutions; A Malaria Free-World
  • 2002 – Mobilizing Communities to Roll Back Malaria
  • 2003 – Insecticide Treated Nets and effective malaria treatment for pregnant
  • women and young children
  • 2004 – A Malaria-Free Future: Children for Children to Roll Back Malaria
  • 2005 – Unite against malaria: Together we can beat malaria
  • 2006 – Get Your ACT Together: Universal Access to Effective Malaria Treatment is a Human Right
  • 2007 – Leadership and Partnership for Results
  • 2008 – Malaria, A Disease without Borders
  • 2009 – Counting Malaria Out
  • 2010 – Counting Malaria Out; (and in the Africa Region) Communities engage to conquer malaria!
  • 2011 – Achieving Progress and Impact
  • 2012 – Sustain Gains. Save Lives. Invest in Malaria
  • 2013-15 – Invest in the Future: Defeat Malaria
  • 2016-17 – End Malaria for Good

In sum these themes emphasize the importance of access to malaria interventions, documenting that access, using the data to stimulate more investment ultimately leading to an end (elimination) of malaria. The most recent World Malaria Report (2016) provides several important examples of the progress so far.

  • Households with least one ITN increased to 79% in 2015
  • 53% of the population at risk slept under an ITN in 2015 in Africa increasing from 30% in 2010
  • The proportion of suspected malaria cases receiving a parasitological test in the public sector increased from 40% in the WHO African Region in 2010 to 76% in 2015
  • In 2015, 31% of eligible pregnant women received three or more doses of intermittent preventive treatment in pregnancy (IPTp) among 20 countries with sufficient data, a major increase from 6% in 2010

In addition to noting progress, the report also points out gaps in appropriate care seeking for malaria, attendance at antenatal care clinics, and adequate numbers of nets for a household. As implied in the IPTp data, there is the additional problem of obtaining timely and accurate date to document progress and/or gaps. Looking at the Malaria Day themes around investing, we know that unless one can show investors results, it will be difficult to “End Malaria for Good.”