Sniffing for malaria:
Malaria has a new foe, but it might need some more prep time to start working towards humanity’s (or at least the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s) ultimate goal of malaria eradication. The new drug, Tafenoquine, is approved and ready to start fighting infections, but it has the unfortunate side effect of making red blood cells burst in some patients. Cells dying, you might have guessed, doesn’t lead to great patient outcomes. There is a test that can identify vulnerable patients, but it requires expensive and difficult to use machinery which may not be present in outbreak regions. Never fear though, researchers are already working on creating a more economically and technically feasible testing method that they’re confident will be ready when endemic countries roll out the drug.
The World Health Organization’s Essential Medicines List has been around for decades and provides the rest of the world’s health organizations a basis for creating their own cost-effective formularies. Well what use is a list of essential medicines if we don’t know who to treat with them? To that end, the WHO has released the Essential Diagnostics List. It’s designed to diagnose the world’s most common diseases, as well as “priority diseases,” like HIV and malaria. The list currently includes 113 tests, but expect that to grow in the next few years as the WHO gets more feedback. Speaking of essential lists, here’s 33 Essential Life Hacks. Disclaimer: Buzzfeed and the WHO probably have a wildly diverging understanding of what “essential” means.
As a top nominee in the “weird, but cool” category, researchers found the breath of children who tested positive for malaria smells different than those who tested negative, suggesting it may be possible to identify malaria based on a “breathprint.” Weird. Good news for you close talkers if the victim of your close talking can tell the difference, otherwise it’s just annoying as hell. Kidding aside, this is really good news because the gold standard test, blood-smear microscopy, is difficult to implement in resource-poor settings. BTW, according to the WHO, there were 214 million malaria cases worldwide in 2015 and ~90% of the ~500,000 malaria deaths occurred in Africa. The fight to end malaria has long been a focus of The Gate Foundation, and now we feel bad for cursing at Windows.
Those dang howler monkeys! One minute they’re cameoing in death metal bands, the next they’re spreading malaria in regions where we thought we had eradicated the disease decades ago. Two malaria outbreaks in Brazil over the past couple years tipped off scientists that something was going on, though they were initially thought to have been caused by the typical, human version of the parasite. When researchers at the Instituto Nacional de Infectologia Evandro Chagas in Rio de Janeiro investigated, they found some of the cases were in fact caused by a typically monkey-exclusive version which is actually… the best-case scenario?? Apparently, if those outbreaks weren’t caused by the monkey-version, then there’s a bunch of human malaria in those monkeys which would be even scarier. Yikes.
In the spirit of American Independence Day, blood-sucking, malaria-spreading mosquito jerks have met their match. Africa alone holds 90% of the world’s malaria deaths, but thanks to W (the President, not the Hotel) and the President’s Malaria Initiative (P.M.I.) we’re starting to see striking results in the fight against malaria. So much so that researchers have determined that, in the countries helped by this initiative, about 1.7 million baby and toddler deaths have been prevented. And guess what? The $500M a year that is spent on this all comes from the good ole US of A. That’s right. American donations have helped save nearly two million children from malaria through P.M.I. Suck on that mosquitos. America isn’t all baseball, burgers, and freedom. It’s a malaria-crushing, baby-saving, philanthropic nation, too.
A promising vaccine under development by Sanaria has some malaria strains running scared. The PfSPZ vaccine was shown to not only protect 64% of subjects from contracting the strain of malaria the treatment was developed from, the vaccine also protected 5 of the 6 subjects treated and exposed to a different strain. Sorry subject #6! Oh, and it does all this while affording eight months of protection at >90% efficacy, which no malaria vaccine to date has been able to do. It’s currently in Phase I, though it has been given fast track designation, so if it can survive the arduous clinical trials process it could be a very important tool in the fight to eradicate malaria.