As we reflect on the state of malaria today—World Malaria Day 2019—one very exciting milestone has been achieved. The pilot implementation of RTS,S, the world’s first licensed vaccine for any parasitic disease has been launched in Malawi, Kenya and Ghana.
This is an exciting step, but malaria is far from defeated. With an efficacy of ~ 35% at best, the vaccine will need to be combined with other preventative methods – both targeting the mosquito vector and prevention of infection in humans along with improved treatments to combat resistance.
Work by Yale School of Public Health Associate Professor Sunil Parikh, M.D., M.P.H., and collaborators in Burkina Faso and at Colorado State University is using a novel approach to help fill the gap of malaria prevention using endectocides – anti-parasitic drugs that also have the added benefit of killing mosquitoes who feed on individuals taking the medicine. The hope is that these drugs will kill human-seeking mosquitoes and will decrease transmission in the population. Additional work in Burkina Faso is focused on improving our surveillance for drug resistance so that treatments can be adjusted proactively.
To complement the RTS,S vaccine, which has been shown to be subject to strain-specific immunity, YSPH Assistant Professor Amy Bei, Ph.D., is working on the discovery of novel malaria vaccine candidates using diversity from the field as a starting point. By bringing diversity to the forefront, we can identify candidates that are less likely to fail due to the diverse parasites circulating in the population.
Many regions of the world have successfully reduced the burden of malaria this past year, but many vulnerable regions have yet to see any meaningful gains. Let’s continue to ensure that everyone has a chance to live free of one of mankind’s oldest scourges.
Assistant Professor Amy Bei
Associate Professor Sunil Parikh