Zero Malaria Starts with Universal Coverage: Part 3 Innovations and New Interventions

Newer malaria interventions are coming on board, and whether these will be used of a large scale or targeted to certain epidemiological contexts remains to be seen. In each case, one will need to examine if in each context one can measure whether the intervention is universally accessible to and used by the intended population or subgroup.

After 30 years of research and testing, a malaria vaccine is ready to go through implementation testing in Malawi, Ghana and Kenya. This pilot of the vaccine, known as RTS,S, will be made available to children up to 2 years of age with the Malawi launching first during the week of World Malaria Day.

WHO explains that, “The malaria vaccine pilot aims to reach about 360,000 children per year across the three countries. Ministries of health will determine where the vaccine will be given; they will focus on areas with moderate-to-high malaria transmission, where the vaccine can have the greatest impact.” There will be a strong monitoring component to identify coverage levels as well as any implementation challenges and adverse effects that may only become visible in a larger scale intervention that the typical efficacy trials. Implementation is occurring in areas with a relatively strong existing malaria control effort, with an intent to learn how a vaccine can complement a total control package.

Mass Drug Administration (MDA, also known as preventive chemotherapy) has been a successful strategy for controlling and eliminating neglected tropical diseases with special reference to onchocerciasis, lymphatic filariasis, trachoma, soil transmitted helminths and schistosomiasis. MDA use in malaria has been limited due to a number of financial and logistical challenges, not the least of which is the need to achieve high coverage over several periods of distribution. This is why WHO recommends, “Use of MDA for the elimination of P. falciparum malaria can be considered in areas approaching interruption of transmission where there is good access to treatment, effective implementation of vector control and surveillance, and a minimal risk of re-introduction of infection.”

Another link with MDA for a different disease, onchocerciasis, has pointed to a potential new malaria intervention. Around ten years ago it was observed that after ivermectin treatment for onchocerciasis in Senegal survivorship of malaria vectors was reduced. Subsequently the potential effect of ivermectin has been intentionally researched with the outcome that, “Frequently repeated mass administrations of ivermectin during the malaria transmission season can reduce malaria episodes among children without significantly increasing harms in the populace.” Mathematical models for onchocerciasis control have predicted the need to achieve annual coverage targets below what could be called universal levels. Using ivermectin for mosquito control would require more frequent dosing and higher coverage.

Although not defined as ‘new’ it is important to include mention of additional vector interventions like larviciding and indoor residual spraying, as these present technical and coverage challenges. For example, larviciding interventions either chemical or biological, do not cover individuals. These focus on breeding sites in communities. This may require better use of the concept of geographical coverage as has been used in onchocerciasis control wherein the proportion of endemic villages reached is monitored.

For example, in Mali the NTD program aimed to achieve 80% program coverage of individuals eligible for preventive chemotherapy and 100% geographical coverage yearly. This means all villages should be reached. In reality, the program achieved 85% geographical coverage for lymphatic filariasis and over 90% for onchocerciasis.

In conclusion, we have seen that defining as well as achieving universal coverage of malaria interventions is a challenging prospect. For example, do we base our monitoring on households, villages, or populations? Do we have the funds and technical capacity to implement and sustain the level of coverage required to have an impact on malaria transmission and move toward elimination? Are we able to introduce new, complimentary and appropriate interventions as a country moves closer to elimination?

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