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How access to knowledge can help stop malaria

Top research on causes, vaccines and treatment for #WorldMalariaDay

Anopheles_stephensi.jpg
The Anopheles stephensi mosquito is a vector of malaria. (Source: CDC)

Malaria can be prevented and cured, yet it is still a major problem in more than 90 countries. The World Health Organization estimates that there were 212 million cases of malaria in 2015, leading to 429 000 deaths.

In recent years, there has been a collaborative global push to tackle malaria, with organizations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funding research. Held annually on 25 April, World Malaria Day is run by the WHO and aims to raise awareness and fuel further work to halt the disease. In 2017, the WHO is focusing on prevention – “a critical strategy for reducing the burden of a disease that continues to kill more than 400 000 people annually.”

As part of this focus, the WHO is calling for improvements in access to life-saving prevention tools; we have built a special collection of articles to support this call, covering everything from the effectiveness of insecticidal nets to the impact of treatment on drug resistance and the state of vaccine research today. Most of the articles in the collection are open access and the rest are free to read until July 18.

Malaria in the developing world

Although malaria is being actively transmitted in 91 countries worldwide, by far the biggest disease burden is in sub-Saharan Africa: 90% of the 212 million cases of malaria and 92% of the resulting deaths occurred in the region in 2015, according to the WHO. It is therefore critical to ensure researchers and healthcare providers there have the information they need to protect, diagnose and treat people.

Malaria is caused by the Plasmodium parasite, which is transmitted by female Anopheles mosquitos. The disease can be prevented by controlling the mosquitos – for example, using insecticides – and keeping them away from people – with nets and repellents. One of the key threats to eradicating malaria today is the resistance of the mosquitos to commonly used insecticides.

With access to research from around the world, the countries most seriously affected can develop more effective strategies to prevent infection.

Spreading the risk

Regions like sub-Saharan Africa have much practical knowledge and research to share – this will be increasingly important as the disease continues to spread to new areas. Decades ago, malaria was present in Europe; it was eradicated in the 1970s using insecticides, drug treatments and environmental engineering.

One of the review articles in the collection, published in Clinical Microbiology and Infection, examines the evidence for a return of malaria to Europe. The authors, from the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens in Greece, outline the key issues public health agencies should consider to prevent the reemergence of malaria in the region.

The authors note that while there have been many documented cases of malaria in Europe in recent years, these have mostly originated overseas, with travelers bringing the disease home. Any local cases have so far been diagnosed and treated efficiently, thanks to effective healthcare systems.

However, there is growing concern and risk due to the increasingly conducive climate – warmer weather in southern Europe is more suitable for mosquitos so climate change could be supporting the spread of malaria. Added to this is the movement of thousands of refugees from malaria endemic areas into Europe, potentially setting up a reservoir of the parasite that could help it spread.

Although the risk is not high, especially not in northern and western Europe, the authors suggest preparation measures:

Strengthening of disease awareness and maintaining robust public health infrastructures for surveillance and vector control are of the utmost importance and should be technically and financially supported to avert the possibility of malaria transmission in Europe’s most vulnerable areas.

Access to life-saving research

Elsevier participates in a variety of initiatives to provide access to research in the developing world. For example, our content is available for free or very low cost in over 100 countries and territories in the developing world through Research4Life, a public-private partnership between UN agencies, universities and publishers. Read more about access to scientific research at Elsevier.

Read the collection

Armed with the latest knowledge, scientists are working together to tackle malaria, from finding ways to control the mosquitos that spread the parasites, to designing vaccines and developing better treatments.

This Virtual Special Issue highlights some key research covering vaccine development, treatment guidelines, case studies and more. You can read the article collection here – most of these articles are open access, and the remaining subscription articles have been made free to access until July 18:

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