Counting on Research to Eradicate Malaria
April 25, 2009
Statement of B.F. (Lee) Hall, M.D., Ph.D., and Anthony S. Fauci, M.D.
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
National Institutes of Health
On April 25, we commemorate the second World Malaria Day with a renewed commitment to work with our global partners to accelerate the fight against malaria throughout the world. We embrace the theme of this year’s World Malaria Day, “Counting Malaria Out,” by recognizing that the ultimate goal of ridding malaria from every region of the globe will require three phases: control, elimination and, finally, eradication.
Approximately half of the world’s population lives in regions at some risk for malaria. In 2006, an estimated 250 million people were infected by malaria parasites, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Nearly 1 million people—mostly young children and pregnant women in Africa—died that year.
The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, supports recent calls to work toward the goal of malaria eradication, while recognizing that such an enormous undertaking must be tackled in stages. First, we must control malaria by stopping the spread of the malaria parasite and reducing the burden of disease region by region. Then we must eliminate the parasite from malaria-endemic countries. Ultimately, we must eradicate malaria from every country throughout the world. Such a venture will require a multi-pronged strategy involving diverse interventions and numerous communities, organizations, companies and governments working together in a coordinated effort.
Today, the Roll Back Malaria (RBM) Partnership launches a campaign to engage the international community in an intensified effort to halve the global malaria burden by 2010, an important milestone on the road to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of reducing malaria deaths to near zero by 2015. Such a bold endeavor will require the help of many partners in delivering medicines and mosquito control products, such as insecticide-treated bed nets and indoor spraying with insecticide, to communities in malaria-endemic regions, scaling up financial contributions, and developing new interventions to treat malaria and prevent the spread of the disease. NIAID, a member of the RBM Partnership, plays an important role in this effort by supporting basic and clinical research throughout the world aimed at developing new tools and strategies to prevent, diagnose and treat malaria.
In 2008 NIAID developed a Strategic Plan for Malaria Research as well as an outline for a comprehensive Research Agenda for Malaria, in which we describe our commitment to a robust basic research portfolio in malaria pathogenesis, immunology and epidemiology to better understand the complex interactions among malaria parasites, mosquito vectors and human hosts. Such studies are essential to the development of new prevention and control strategies. In addition to scientific studies, NIAID supports enhanced research training in the United States and abroad to develop the organizations and “human capital” vital to moving basic research discoveries from the laboratory and into the communities affected by malaria.
Researchers supported by NIAID are making significant progress in developing new countermeasures to fight malaria. NIAID-supported scientists are actively engaged in research and development that supports approximately one-third of the worldwide malaria drug research portfolio. NIAID also supports research on 20 vaccine candidates, 7 of which are in clinical trials. Studies on basic mosquito biology have recently led to the identification of genetic markers involved in pyrethroid insecticide resistance that are now being evaluated for utility in the field. Looking to the future, NIAID recently launched a new initiative, the International Centers of Excellence in Malaria Research, to support a novel, global, multidisciplinary approach to understanding malaria in the evolving context of control, elimination and eradication.
While we celebrate important advances in the fight against malaria, we also recognize the enormous challenges that lie ahead. For example, we need faster and more reliable methods for diagnosing malaria to identify different parasite species and drug-resistant strains that may emerge. We also need to develop systematic ways to translate the enormous wealth of basic information concerning the parasite and mosquito vectors into effective strategies for treating and controlling malaria.
Most importantly, we must work together with all of our partners to ensure that we do not lose focus as we achieve success in controlling and eliminating malaria from endemic regions. It is critical that the global community remain committed—in the long term—to sustaining our efforts until malaria is eradicated from every region of the world.
Lee Hall, M.D., Ph.D., is chief of the Parasitology and International Programs Branch in the NIAID Division of Microbiology and Infectious Diseases. Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., is director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
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Last Updated April 24, 2009