25 April 2019

Africa: Innovation Could Help End Spread of Malaria Through Blood

As the world works towards achieving universal healthcare and well-being by 2030, winning the war against malaria is not just the right thing to do, it is also a smart investment.

Malaria is the fourth most burdensome infectious disease globally. In 2017, the cases reached 219 million in 87 countries, with around 435,000 deaths, among them 266,000 children.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), this accounts for 61 per cent of all malaria deaths registered worldwide. This means that every two minutes a child dies of malaria, a disease that is preventable and curable. Data also shows that children aged under five years are the most vulnerable group affected. But, after a remarkable period of success in malaria control and progress, the number of cases has been rising since 2015.

Education and awareness on how malaria is acquired and transmitted is critical so that everyone can apply preventive measures. The WHO has reported that transmission of malaria by blood transfusion is a significant public health problem.

A study by 7th Multilateral Initiative on Malaria shows the high prevalence of malaria parasites in blood for transfusion in sub-Saharan Africa could be a major setback in the fight against the disease. Ensuring safety of blood and blood management is a solution to controlling transfusion of the disease to patients. Regular screening of blood is an essential component that can potentially end transfusion-transmitted malaria.

Another important solution is ensuring an adequate, sustainable and safe blood supply - one of the key challenges facing the continent.

INNOVATIONS

Innovations also present good prospects for malaria intervention. In Ghana, Terumo BCT, a global leader in blood component, therapeutic apheresis and cell therapy technologies, worked closely with the National Blood Service Ghana (NBSG) on initiatives for blood safety to complete the African Investigation of the Mirasol System clinical study at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi.

The study demonstrated a significant reduction in malaria transmissions through blood transfusion, using whole blood treated with the Mirasol Pathogen Reduction Technology (PRT) system. The technology uses a combination of riboflavin (vitamin B2) and ultraviolet light to inactivate white blood cells in whole blood for transfusion. As a result, the Mirasol PRT system was approved for use by the Ghana FDA in August 2016.

Brian Gitta, from Uganda, won Africa's top engineering prize and the Microsoft Imagine Cup for the software technology Matibabu, which he developed. Matibabu is the first smart phone-based diagnosis system for malaria, working without a prick on the skin. When clipped onto a person's finger, the device tests for the presence of plasmodium in blood. It works with a red light able to reach the red blood cells and takes a minute to give a user the results.

In Nigeria, researchers have developed a product to test urine for malaria. Zanzibar has gone as far as getting drones to survey mosquito breeding areas.

As leaders converge in Paris for the World Malaria Day, it is my hope that the talks will lead to solutions that can address the challenge of transfusion-transmitted malaria for Africa's most vulnerable populations. The collective success in malaria management is substantial, but is also fragile and must be sustained.

Philana Mugyenyi is the manager of Sub-Sahara Africa Government Affairs and Public Policy at Terumo BCT

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