When the world looks back on 2020, progress against malaria might not be top of mind. But even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the global malaria community continued advancing its mission to eliminate this deadly and costly disease.
Here are ten images from 2020 that capture our efforts.
Strengthening community health worker networks
Community health workers help lead the elimination effort against malaria. Now, they’re also helping slow the spread of COVID-19.
Through the Malaria Control and Elimination Partnership in Africa (MACEPA) and the Program for the Advancement of Malaria Outcomes (PAMO), PATH is helping ensure these workers have the protective gear and information they need to safely deliver health services in their communities.
To continue expanding community health worker networks (and thereby improving access to care), PATH and partners have adapted community health worker trainings so they can continue during COVID-19. Trainings are now conducted in smaller groups, physical distancing measures are followed, and handwashing stations are provided.
Deploying new tools for treating Plasmodium vivax malaria
The Plasmodium vivax parasite can be fully cleared from an infected patient’s body, but multiple drugs are required. Patients who are deficient in the glucose-6-phosphate dehydrogenase (G6PD) enzyme, however, can experience severe adverse reactions to this radical cure treatment.
This is why PATH helped develop the STANDARD™ G6PD diagnostic test, which received provisional approval last year. This new point-of-care diagnostic makes it easier to detect G6PD deficiency.
In Vietnam, where P. vivax malaria is regularly found, PATH is partnering with the National Institute of Malariology, Parasitology, and Entomology to conduct trainings on the proper use of G6PD diagnostics.
Improving diagnostics for G6PD screening
To improve G6PD screening and clinical care for malaria patients, PATH conducted clinical studies on the STANDARD™ G6PD diagnostic to support the World Health Organization (WHO) prequalification process, which would allow for ongoing procurement, past the initial provisional time limit.
Sampa Pal and Maria Kahn, scientific officers with PATH’s Diagnostics program, conducted a training for postdoctoral fellows, PhD students, and laboratory technicians at the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases laboratory in Kolkata, India. The training covered how to evaluate the STANDARD™ G6PD diagnostic by comparing it with other gold standard lab methodologies.
Tracking COVID-19 with genomic surveillance
In Zambia, our team at the National Malaria Elimination Centre genotypes parasites to look for molecular markers of resistance to common malaria treatments.
When COVID-19 spread to Zambia, the team also began sequencing COVID-19 samples, looking at the virus’s genetic code to track how it was spreading within the population. Mutations visible in the SARS-CoV-2 genome help health professionals identify infection clusters and inform contact tracing efforts.
Creating and communicating COVID-19 guidance
Malaria educators have developed robust communications channels for encouraging uptake of malaria services and healthy behaviors, including radio programs, community conversations, and job aids for community health workers. Like in the video above, these communications channels were quickly adapted to deliver important information regarding COVID-19 prevention and care-seeking. To support these efforts, PATH contributed to global guidance on safely adapting malaria services to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Celebrating the malaria vaccine’s first anniversary
Last year in Malawi, Lusitana, who was five months old at the time, made history as the first child to receive the world’s first malaria vaccine, RTS,S.
Since then, more than 1 million children received the vaccine through a pilot introduction in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi. The three countries’ ministries of health, supported by WHO, PATH, and GSK, are leading the pilot, gathering data, and producing insights that will help optimize the vaccine and inform future rollouts.
Introducing a bittersweet surprise for mosquitoes
As mosquitoes develop resistance to common insecticides, new tools are critical to control their populations. Attractive targeted sugar baits (ATSBs) do just that, targeting both female and male mosquitoes, including those that bite and rest outdoors.
The sugar baits are plant-based and contain an oral toxicant rather than the contact insecticide used in indoor residual spraying and insecticide-treated bed nets. The baits can also incorporate and rotate different oral toxicants, making them a potentially useful tool for managing insecticide resistance.
PATH is in a partnership led by the Innovative Vector Control Consortium to evaluate the efficacy of the Westham Co. ATSB® in Kenya, Mali, and Zambia. As part of this work, PATH met with community leaders in Kaoma, Zambia, to introduce the ATSB intervention and improve community acceptance rates.
Assessing the impact of indoor residual spraying
Through the U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) VectorLink project, PATH supported national malaria programs in Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, and Mali to evaluate the impact of their indoor residual spraying (IRS) campaigns.
The team combines local routine data sources and malaria case incidence, residual spraying and bed net program data, entomology indicators, and climate data to create interactive visualizations and conduct statistical analyses. The results are then used by the national programs and PMI to inform national vector control program decisions.
This year in Mali, per the national program’s request, the team is evaluating the impact of using Interceptor G2—a next-generation insecticide-treated net that is effective against mosquitoes resistant to conventional insecticides.
Visualizing data to track malaria—and COVID-19
When a public health emergency strikes, emergency operations centers (EOCs) play an essential role in responding. EOCs bring together different parts of a country’s public health system to ensure timely and efficient responses to public health threats. These centralized units also coordinate the analysis and use of data to enable outbreak prevention and detection.
PATH has been working with partners in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Senegal to explore how EOCs could assist with malaria surveillance and outbreak response. Then, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, PATH’s malaria staff trained in case management and data visualization lent their expertise to the COVID-19 response teams.
Continuing to fight malaria in Zambia
In 2015, with funding from PMI and implemented by PATH, the Program for the Advancement of Malaria Outcomes (PAMO) set out to scale up proven malaria interventions, build management capacity for delivering those interventions, and strengthen health information systems at the provincial and national levels in Zambia.
Since then, PAMO has trained and deployed more than 3,000 community health workers, expanded the breadth and depth of supportive supervision to improve malaria diagnosis and treatment, and markedly improved the quality and use of data to drive decision-making.
PAMO Plus, announced this year, extends the PMI support through 2025. With PAMO Plus, PATH will enable and expand community health worker networks, improve malaria surveillance data for effective decision-making, and increase the effectiveness of malaria control measures in targeted districts. PAMO Plus aims to reduce the number of malaria deaths by half and incidence by two-thirds.