Category Archives: Gender

The Weekly Tropical Health News 2019-07-06: Eliminating Malaria in Low Transmission Settings

This week started with articles that drew attention to the challenges of malaria in low transmission areas and with low density infections. Malaria Journal has provided several insightful articles toward this end.

Being an island has certainly helped Zanzibar make progress toward malaria elimination as witness the fact that malaria prevalence has remained below 1% for the past decade. Not only does Zanzibar still face threats of infection from the mainland, it may also experience an upsurge locally if residual transmission and the role of human behavior and community actions are not well understood. April Monroe et al. conducted in-depth interviews with community members and local leaders across six sites on Unguja, Zanzibar as well as semi-structured community observations of night-time activities and special events to learn more.

While there was high reported ITN use, there were also times when people were exposed t mosquitoes while being outdoors during biting times. This could be around the house, or at special night events like such as weddings, funerals, and religious ceremonies. Men spent more time outdoors than women. Clearly appropriate interventions and needed and should be promoted in culturally appropriate ways in order to further reduce and eventually eliminate transmission.

Angela Early and colleagues presented findings on a diagnostic process of deep sequencing for understanding the dynamics and complexity of Plasmodium infections, but stress that knowing the lower limit of detection is challenging. They present “a new amplicon analysis tool, the Parallel Amplicon Sequencing Error Correction (PASEC) pipeline, is used to evaluate the performance of amplicon sequencing on low-density Plasmodium DNA samples.”

The authors learned that, “four state-of-the-art tools resolved known haplotype mixtures with similar sensitivity and precision.” They also cautioned that, “Samples with very low parasitemia and very low read count have higher false positive rates and call for read count thresholds that are higher than current default recommendations.” Better understanding of the genetic mix of plasmodium infections as countries move toward low transmission and elimination is crucial for selecting appropriate interventions and evaluating their outcomes.

Hannah Edwards and co-researchers examined conditions for malaria transmission along the Thailand-Myanmar border in areas approaching malaria elimination. While prevalence may be less than 1%, residual transmission still occurs. Transmission occurs not only around residences but in the forests where people work. The researchers therefore looked at the behavior of both humans and insects. Overall, they found that, “Community members frequently stayed overnight at subsistence farm huts or in the forest. Entomological collections showed higher biting rates of primary vectors in forested farm hut sites and in a more forested village setting compared to a village with clustered housing and better infrastructure.”

While mosquitoes preferred to bite inside huts, their threat was magnified by those who did not use long lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLINs). While out in the farms and forests, people tended to wake early and increase their likelihood of being bitten. The authors discuss the challenges of dual residences in terms of LLIN ownership and even concerning the potential access to indoor residual spraying. The definition for universal net coverage needs to expand from one net per two people to include adequate nets wherever people are located.

The Amazonian area of Brazil is another area working toward malaria elimination, in particular, Plasmodium vivax. Felipe Leão Gomes Murta et al. also looked at the human side of the equation and identified misperceptions by both community members and health workers that could inhibit elimination efforts. They found, “many myths regarding malaria transmission and treatment that may hinder the sensitization of the population of this region in relation to the use of current control tools and elimination strategies, such as mass drug administration (MDA),” and LLINs.

Problematic perceptions included mention by both groups that the use of insecticide-treated nets, may cause skin irritations and allergies. Both community members and health professionals said malaria is “an impossible disease to eliminate because it is intrinsically associated with forest landscapes.” They concluded that such perceptions can be a barrier to control and elimination.

Efforts to eliminate malaria from low transmission settings are an essential to the overall global goals. These four articles tell us that close attention to and better understanding of humans, parasites and mosquitoes is still needed to achieve these goals.

Women Making Malaria History

March is Women’s History Month and thus a time to examine the role of women in bringing an end to malaria. For many years studies at the household level have told us that women often lack the financial independence or social support to make important decisions about malaria treatment and prevention for themselves and their children. Furthermore, as WHO notes, “Gender norms and values … influence the division of labour, leisure patterns, and sleeping arrangements may lead to different patterns of exposure to mosquitoes for men and women.” As part of the solution to these problems, it is important to look at women role models in the fight against the disease – at women making malaria history.

One of these role models is Tu Youyou who became one of three scientists to win the 2015 Nobel Prize for medicine. Her work of over 40 years was virtually unknown to the outside world until then, but her study of artemisinin medicinal compounds has saved the lives of millions.

Moving from the lab to the community one can find role models who have broken role stereotypes. A few years ago President’s Malaria Initiative-funded Africa Indoor Residual Spraying (AIRS) project drew out attention to Maimouna Sanogo as a woman making a difference. She helped protect people in her country from malaria through her work as a supervisor on AIRS indoor residual spraying project in Mali. The AIRS project reported that, “As a woman in a leadership role, Maimouna is a trailblazer. In Mali, only 37% of women participate in the labor force, while participation is nearly double among Malian men (70%).”

Women have played crucial leadership roles in national malaria programs. Dr TO Sofola as Director of Nigeria’s National Malaria Control Program (NMCP, now National Malaria Elimination Program) guided the transition of case management policy to the use of artemisinin-based combination therapy, oversaw planning for the first massive national LLIN campaign, guided development of the World Bank Booster Program support, helped strengthen Nigeria’s first Global Fund Malaria Grants, and brought state level malaria control programs into the national strategy process. Women have also led NMCPs in Malawi, Kenya and other countries.

Dr Rose Leke, Emeritus Professor of Immunology and Parasitology, Faculty of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, University of Yaounde, Cameroon, was one of six people to be given the Kwame Nkrumah Scientific Award for Women in 2011.  Dr Leke explained the challenges facing women, “Science is still a challenging field for women to enter, and even more so in which to progress. At the university, I have seen many promising young women finish their studies and start jobs as assistants only to either get stuck in that position indefinitely or eventually leave to take care of their families. There just wasn’t the mentorship or financial support for research needed for them to be able to progress. It was an issue I really took to heart.” Therefore, Dr Leke and colleagues started the HIGHER Women Consortium in Cameroon. We provided training and mentorship to young women researchers.

Women in academics, research, government and front line programs have and continue to make history in the efforts to eliminate malaria. As Dr Leke’s example shows, these women leaders can make sure no one stands in the way of ensuring that the next generation of women scientists, managers and field workers make malaria history.