Abebe Fola

Abebe Fola

PhD student Abebe Fola is focused on the genomic
epidemiology of the malaria parasite Plasmodium vivax.

Having faced the devastating impact of malaria on friends and family, PhD student Mr Abebe Fola is dedicated to ending the suffering caused by this parasitic disease.

Abebe was born in a small rural community in southern Ethiopia, where malaria is endemic.

“There was a major malaria epidemic when I was in high school, which killed many people in my community,” Abebe explained.

“The tragic loss of life inspired me to study medical biology, to find solutions to prevent malaria.”

Journey to Australia

After completing a Master of Science degree in medical parasitology at Jimma University, Ethiopia, Abebe worked as a lecturer and researcher, publishing more than 30 articles in peer-reviewed journals, as well as providing free community services – teaching communities and schools about infection prevention.

“I wanted to further develop my malaria research skills, and I was captivated by a PhD project offered by Walter and Eliza Hall Institute malaria researcher Associate Professor Alyssa Barry,” Abebe said.

Abebe’s relocation to Australia, living expenses and post-graduate studies were supported by scholarships from the University of Melbourne.

“I have received enormous support from everyone at the Institute,” Abebe said. “The friendship and positive working environment of my lab group helps me to enjoy my day-to-day activity, as well as work efficiently.”

Tracking the parasite

Mr Abebe Fola with his PhD supervisor Alyssa Barry.

Abebe’s PhD project, supervised by Associate Professor Alyssa Barry, is focused on the genomic epidemiology of the malaria parasite Plasmodium vivax. This parasite species is the predominant cause of malaria in countries outside Africa, and causes relapsing malaria infections that are hard to eliminate.

Abebe is developing a genetic ‘barcode’ to track P. vivax infections at high resolution, with a particular focus on cases in Papua New Guinea. This will enable us to understand how the parasite spreads – the first step towards preventing transmission and eliminating this devastating disease.

“It’s essential that we develop cheap and robust genotyping tools that can easily transfer to malaria-endemic countries with limited resources to track infections and imported cases,” Abebe said.

“Thanks to the efforts of many organisations around the world that are committed to eliminating malaria, the prevalence of this disease has been decreasing.”

“Still, a child dies of malaria every 30 seconds. I would like to see a malaria-free world in my lifetime.”

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