Relapsing infections threaten malaria eradication

Relapsing infections threaten malaria eradication

Illuminate newsletter header, December 2015
December 2015

Dr Leanne Robinson in Papua New Guinea
Dr Leanne Robinson (right) and her research
support team test a young patient for malaria

Dr Leanne Robinson in PNG studying malaria
Dr Leanne Robinson stands by a centrifuge machine
holding a blood test sample in Papua New Guinea

Institute researchers have discovered most childhood infections with the widespread Plasmodium vivax malaria parasite are the result of relapsed – not new – infections.

The discovery could challenge global efforts to eradicate malaria. It has significant repercussions for the Asia-Pacific’s current malaria control program, as well as for other areas globally where P. vivax is a significant cause of malaria.

The research was led by Dr Leanne Robinson and Professor Ivo Mueller, with colleagues at the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research.

Malaria a relapsing threat

Dr Robinson said four out of five children in Papua New Guinea (PNG) aged five to 10 years were susceptible to recurring P. vivax infections.

“Our research has shown that one of the biggest problems in realising malaria eradication is relapsing P. vivax infections, which are critical for sustained transmission in the region,” Dr Robinson said.

P. vivax is able to hide in the liver for long periods of time before ‘reawakening’ to cause disease and continue the transmission cycle. Mass drug administration, which includes a drug that kills parasites in the liver, is likely to be a highly effective strategy for eliminating malaria in PNG.”

Why current elimination programs fall short

Professor Mueller said current programs were unable to achieve elimination because they could not identify and treat children with chronic liver infections. "We need a better way of identifying children who are chronically infected with malaria so they can be treated," he said.

“We need a better way of identifying children who are chronically infected with malaria so they can be treated.”

“It is the only way to stop the malaria transmission cycle in PNG, and is likely to be the case for eliminating malaria in other parts of the Asia-Pacific and Americas,” Professor Mueller said.

Global Health grant enables crucial test

An AUD$1.15 million grant through the Global Health Innovative Technology Fund will bring institute researchers together with international collaborators to accelerate development of a test that identifies people with malaria parasites in their liver.

“The funding is important because it supports the development of a test to identify people with chronic malaria infections so that we can effectively treat them, which will be critical for malaria eradication,” Professor Mueller said.

Super Content: 
Dr Leanne Robinson in Papua New Guinea

See inside our malaria research program in Madang, Papua New Guinea.

Q&A session at World Malaria Day 2014 public lecture

An overview of malaria research and progress to date, including vaccine and drug development, and our research in malaria-endemic countries.

Map showing distribution of malaria in the Asia-Pacific region

We are a member of the Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network (APMEN), an international collaborative network working towards eliminating malaria in the Asia-Pacific region.

Malaria parasite in the bloodstream

Visualisation of the parasite infection inside a pregnant female mosquito.

Research team in a lab

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