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.

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