The end of malaria is within reach

Health workers sitting outside with group of village residents.

PATH and the Zambia National Malaria Control Centre are leading an effort to rapidly eliminate the malaria parasite from large regions of the country. The approach is to treat everyone, including people who are carrying the disease but don’t know it. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

For thousands of years, people around the world have suffered from malaria. Although the illness has been largely eliminated from North America and Europe, it is still found in nearly 100 countries.

Portrait of Kent Campbell.

Author Dr. Kent Campbell directs PATH’s Malaria Center of Excellence at PATH. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

Each year, malaria affects more than 200 million people and kills about 600,000. Most deaths are among children under five, and children who survive may have lifelong mental disabilities.

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Friday Think: the antivenom potential of the opossum

An opossum perched on a tree branch.

Meet the Virginia opossum, a marsupial scientists are studying for its unique antivenom properties. Photo: Wikipedia/Cody Pope.

What do opossums, ground squirrels, and honey badgers have in common? Mammal or marsupial, they all share natural immunities to snake venom.

The World Health Organization estimates that as many as 94,000 people die each year as a result of snakebites, primarily in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. However, the ability of opossums to resist the fatal effects of snake venom has been informally known for many years. In the 1990s, researchers found that the antivenom “superpowers” observed in opossums stem from the presence of a lethal toxin neutralizing factor (LTNF) peptide, an active portion of a larger protein, occurring naturally in their blood. Now, preliminary findings indicate that Escherichia coli can be modified to produce this LTNF peptide, potentially facilitating the commercial pharmaceutical production of it as a universal antivenom. Continue reading »

Protecting Aisha from cervical cancer

Aisha Nanyombi sitting on a bench with her father Musa Maka.

Aisha Nanyombi (pictured with her father) was among the very first girls in Africa to be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, which can cause cervical cancer. Photo: PATH/Will Boase.

This post is part of PATH’s Protecting Kids blog series for World Immunization Week. Read the whole series here.

The first time I saw Aisha, she was wearing her blue school uniform and wiping tears from her face. She’d just been vaccinated, but it wasn’t the shot that upset her. She was crying because her mother had died of the very disease she was being protected from—cervical cancer.

That was more than five years ago, but I was so haunted by how Aisha told her story in a BBC video that when I traveled to Uganda this past winter, my team tracked her down to see how she was. Continue reading »

4 things I learned from the global health innovators at PATH

Five people get water from a pump, electrochlorinator device in foreground.

In Zimbabwe, community members use an electrochlorinator device to treat water at a borehole, one of the many technologies PATH has helped to develop. Photo: PATH/Jesse Schubert.

Our guest contributor is Dr. Anurag Mairal, former global program leader of our Technology Solutions Program at PATH. In this post, Anurag shares some of the lessons he learned during his two years here.

“To perceive is to suffer,” famously said Aristotle.

As I reflect on my recently concluded role at PATH, the veritable powerhouse of innovation that gave us the vaccine vial monitor and first auto-disable syringes, I am struck by how much I learned in just two years there, lessons that have redefined what innovation means for me. Continue reading »

At PATH we’re often asked, “What is this?”

“What is this and what does it do?” We get this a lot at PATH. Take the diagnostic devices pictured below.

Two self-heating NINA diagnostic devices.

What’s so innovative about something that looks like a canister of hot cocoa or chicken soup? Actually, plenty. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.

We develop some pretty out-there technologies at PATH, and these prototypes, developed in our lab are no exception. (Admittedly, we used a filter to enhance the photo.)

But then you notice the wires and the components, and it’s apparent there’s a purpose to the design. Have you guessed what it is? Continue reading »

Innovating to address malnutrition’s triple burden

Girls eating rice from a plate.

In contrast to many other health-related issues, malnutrition is 100 percent preventable. Photo: PATH/Satvir Malhotra.

Following is an excerpt of an article by Dr. David Fleming, vice president of Public Health Impact at PATH, illustrating how the private sector and global health sector can develop the innovations needed to address global malnutrition. This post originally appeared on the Global Food For Thought blog.

The world faces a triple burden of malnutrition. Acute and chronic undernutrition contribute to the deaths of some 3 million children each year. More than 2 billion people suffer from vitamin and mineral deficiencies, which compromise immune systems and physical and cognitive development. And now obesity is contributing to a host of health problems, from diabetes to heart disease. Continue reading »

Protecting Kids: stories of immunization from home and afield

Laotian girl receives oral vaccine.

This much we know: around the globe, people want their children to have healthy, productive, and full lives. More than anything, they want to protect their kids.

Illustration of globe with text, #ProtectingKids: Global stories for World Immunization Week.We’ve witnessed the desire to protect a child. We’ve seen how parents and families react when they’re told a miraculous new vaccine can give them the power to fight a disease. The commitment of health workers who will stop at nothing on their quest to deliver it. We’ve also seen the sadness when that “miracle” is not available or arrives too late.

Welcome to Protecting Kids, a collection of stories curated from friends and partners of PATH for World Immunization Week.

Through April, we’ll be adding stories of immunization from across the web and the world. Check back to read more, and follow #ProtectingKids to join the online conversation. Continue reading »

Jonas Salk through the eyes of his assistant

Kathleen Murray and Dr. Salk in 1994.

Kathleen Murray worked with Dr. Salk from 1989 until his death in 1995. In 2015, Salk’s inactivated polio vaccine will be introduced in 126 countries—the largest vaccine rollout in history. Photo: Kathleen Murray.

Today, on the 60th anniversary of Dr. Jonas Salk’s inactivated polio vaccine being declared “safe, effective and potent,” we profile Kathleen Murray, Dr. Salk’s assistant at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. The vaccine continues to make history today as a critical tool to achieve global polio eradication.

Q: Tell us about your connection to Dr. Salk.

A: I had been at the Salk Institute for about one year when Dr. Salk asked to see me. Because his assistant of 45 years was retiring, he was looking for someone to manage his office. He began our first meeting by saying, “To determine whether we would be a good match, let’s get together like this from time to time and get to know each other.” However, at the end of that first conversation he stood up and said, “Well I’m comfortable—if you are—that we can work well together.” And with that, I became assistant to one of the twentieth century’s greatest heroes.

Q: I’m sure you get asked this question a lot, but…what was Dr. Salk like?

A: Dr. Salk was a deeply committed scientist, philosopher, and humanist. Generally, he was serious, always working. In addition to the polio vaccine, he helped develop one of the first influenza vaccines and a therapeutic AIDS treatment; started the Salk Institute for Biological Studies, which makes groundbreaking contributions to understanding diseases; was an active board member of many organizations; and was a researcher and philosopher concerned about the future of mankind and human evolution. However, he was also approachable, warmly welcoming visitors to the Institute campus. During the years I worked with him he was quiet, thoughtful, and a little melancholy because his two younger brothers had died within six months of each other. He deeply mourned their loss.

Q: What do you think motivated Dr. Salk?

A: Family, friends, colleagues, historians, journalists—they all know that Jonas Salk was motivated by a lifelong desire to alleviate suffering and improve the condition of humankind. He was born in New York City, two years before the 1916 polio epidemic devastated that city. That year, 8,900 children and adults were infected, and 2,400 people, mainly children under the age of five, died of polio. He grew up watching epidemics of polio, influenza, diphtheria, typhoid, and other infectious diseases. He was central to establishing the field of immunization that rid the world of many diseases that we see little of today.

An infant in the arms of her mother.

While polio can strike at any age, it mainly affects children under age five. Because there is no cure, prevention through vaccination is the only protection for children. Photo: PATH/Gabe Bienczycki.

Q: What do you think Dr. Salk would say if he knew that his vaccine was about to be introduced in 126 countries this year?

A: Dr. Salk worked tirelessly until he died at the age of 80. He hoped that the inactivated polio vaccine would be used globally so that the virus would no longer exist anywhere in the world. I don’t what he would say, but he did believe that eventually it would happen.

Q: In one sentence, what did you learn, and what can we all learn from Dr. Salk’s legacy?

A: He believed that we have the knowledge and the ability to influence the evolution of humankind—use it wisely.

Fully eradicating polio will require stopping virus transmission, maintaining immunity for several years after eradication, and monitoring for poliovirus in all parts of the world. To meet these challenges, PATH is working with partners and providing technical support on the development of high-quality, low-cost polio vaccines as well as improved surveillance tools to detect poliovirus that are easy to use, reliable, and can be processed by local laboratories without complex equipment. PATH is also conducting research to determine whether dose-sparing technologies​ can be used to improve the cost and performance of inactivated polio vaccines.​

Guest contributor Laura Edison is a scientific communications associate in our Vaccine Access and Delivery Program at PATH.

Friday Think: this “leechbook” recipe may battle MRSA infections

Two pages from "Bald's Leechbook."

The 1,000-year-old Bald’s Leechbook contains a recipe that may be used as a potential agent against Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). Photo: British Library, United Kingdom.

When researchers and academics at the University of Nottingham peeked inside the leather-bound cover of Bald’s Leechbook, they found some useful recipes with a few unusual ingredients.

  • Mouse cells: the run-of-the-mill variety.
  • Oxgall: bile from a cow’s stomach.
  • Alliums: garlic, plus either a leek or onion.
  • One brass vessel.

Oh, and lest we forget, wine from a vineyard that has existed since the ninth century.

It’s not what you’d expect from a recipe, but then again, 1,000-year-old tomes don’t get uncovered every day. And this particular recipe had some surprising benefits: it killed over 90 percent of a bacteria known as Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA).

Each year, over 90,000 people in the US contract antibiotic-resistant MRSA infections, resulting in mortality rates in the tens of thousands (MRSA Research Center). The British researchers aren’t quite sure how the 1,000-year-old salve works, but they feel it has potential as an antibiotic, recount Nick Thompson and Laura Smith-Spark of CNN, who filed this report:

Christina Lee, an expert on Anglo-Saxon society from the School of English at the University of Nottingham, translated the ancient manuscript despite some ambiguities in the text.

“We chose this recipe in Bald’s Leechbook because it contains ingredients such as garlic that are currently investigated by other researchers on their potential antibiotic effectiveness. . . .It’s also a recipe where we are told it’s the ‘best of leechdoms’—how could you not test that?”

The story continues with microbiologist Freya Harrison from the School of Life Sciences at the University of Nottingham.

“We recreated the recipe as faithfully as we could. The Bald gives very precise instructions for the ratio of different ingredients and for the way they should be combined before use, so we tried to follow that as closely as possible.”

The researchers then tested their recipe on cultures of MRSA, methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, a type of staph bacterium that does not respond to commonly used antibiotic treatments.

The scientists weren’t holding out much hope that it would work—but they were astonished by the lab results.

“What we found was very interesting—we found that Bald’s eyesalve is incredibly potent as an anti-Staphylococcal antibiotic in this context,” Harrison said.Friday Think logo

You can read the article in its entirety at CNN.

Each week, we scour the news for the hottest stories on innovation. Our weekly feature, The Friday Think, highlights one we’ve found particularly fascinating.

Unsung heroes in neighborhoods around the world

Pharmacist standing near open window with a customer's hands holding medication.

Pharmacists and druggists are often the first and sometimes only point of contact with the health care system for many people—particularly in low- and lower middle-income countries. Photo: PATH/Felix Masi.

Quotes from people who use pharmacies.

Portrait of a smiling Jane Hutchings.

Guest contributor is Jane Hutchings, director of Reproductive Health Programs at PATH. Photo: PATH.

When we think of health workers, we often envision physicians or nurses in clinics and hospitals, or community health workers who provide primary health care services to their neighbors. And while these providers, so intrinsic to our traditional view of health care, play essential roles, the private-sector pharmacist and druggist are very often the first and sometimes only point of contact with the health care system for many people—particularly in low- and lower middle-income countries (LMIC).

Male health worker standing outside of the pharmacy window at a hospital.

Pharmacists have enormous reach into communities, but they are regularly excluded from public health strategies. Photo: PATH/Eric Becker.

The third annual World Health Worker Week provides us an opportunity to stand back, recognize, support, and raise awareness of the important role health workers play everywhere.

And yet, in an overlooked sector, pharmacists and druggists may be the least recognized providers of all, even though people rely on them every day.

  • Consumers value the accessibility, convenience, and potential for cost savings and, in some cases, the anonymity of pharmacies and drug shops.
  • People appreciate that needed medicines often are in stock and waiting times are short.
  • In many cases, commercial pharmacists and druggists already are administering key health services and distributing products to improve the health of women, children, and families—such as contraceptives for family planning or oral rehydration solution to prevent child deaths from diarrhea.
A person wearing a helmet talks to a woman behind a counter.

In some countries, youth are far more likely to visit a pharmacy for services than they are to visit a clinic. Photo: PATH/Jolene Beitz.

Pharmacists and their staff, or drug shop workers, have enormous reach into communities, but they are regularly excluded from public health strategies.

Public health systems and programs will be stronger and more communities will thrive if we recognize the value of pharmacists and druggists and bolster their ability to meet the health care needs of the people they serve.

Repeatedly, research has found that properly trained and supported pharmacists and druggists with an expanded scope of practice can provide quality services including:

  • Health education.
  • Diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted infections, malaria, and diarrhea.
  • Referral for HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.
Two men talk to a woman standing behind a counter.

Some people do not go to clinics because the fee is high and they are located far from home. Photo: PATH/Ngo Thi Than Thuy.

The role pharmacists and druggists can play in the management of noncommunicable diseases in lower middle-income countries will continue to be substantial. Their dedication is crucial to the well-being, success, and stability of individuals, families, communities, and nations.

As we work toward universal health care and undertake efforts to strengthen the health workforce worldwide, this group of providers is too important to forget. Including them in policy dialogue or advocacy for human resources for health—and strengthening their capacity—will help us achieve stronger health systems that can be sustained by communities.

Guest contributor Jane Hutchings is the director of our Reproductive Health Program at PATH.