Malaria Awareness Week: Spreading the word about a killer disease
Are you aware? Do you know? Are you informed? Do you want to learn something new?
Most people have a vague idea about what malaria is, and most of them know that the disease is spread by mosquitoes and can lead to death. But things aren’t that simple. Malaria is a complex parasitic disease confined mostly to tropical areas and is transmitted by female Anopheles mosquitoes only, whilst males feed on plant nectar. Interestingly, the disease isn’t actually caused by mosquitoes but by the Plasmodium parasite that is transmitted to humans by the mosquitoes. It is the result of a complex interplay between three biological systems, human, vector (mosquitoes) and parasite, each with its own complex lifecycle, environment, habits and pathogenesis profiles. In 2015 there were an estimated 214 million clinical cases of malaria and 438 000 deaths, with most cases and deaths recorded by the World Health Organization (WHO) in the Africa region. An increasing number of malaria-endemic countries are aiming to eliminate the disease in the not too distant future, but this is easier said than done.
World Malaria Day (WMD) is commemorated annually on 25 April. Building on the momentum generated by malaria awareness campaigns across the globe in 2016, the theme for this year is once again ‘End Malaria for Good’. The UP ISMC (University of Pretoria Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control) hosts an event on or around 25 April every year. Earlier this year, the tragic deaths of two women in the north of Pretoria received intense media attention, mostly because Pretoria (or Gauteng Province) is not an endemic area for malaria and the women did not visit an endemic area prior to contracting the disease. Numerous other cases of people in non-endemic areas contracting and eventually dying as a result of malaria were subsequently reported. This prompted the UP ISMC to initiate an awareness campaign about the disease, while at the same time focussing on some of the research on malaria being done at the Institute. It was therefore decided to host a malaria awareness week aimed at students and personnel specifically on the Hatfield and Mamelodi campuses of the University of Pretoria, highlighting malaria research and experiences in the UP ISMC student forum.
The theme for the awareness week is ‘Are you aware?’ and it kicked off on 18 April when Prof Tiaan de Jager, Director of the UP ISMC, presented an information session about the Institute, its vision and mission to the UP community on Tuks FM. Since then, Tuks FM has been hosting a malaria themed slot from 09:00 until 12:00 each day and this will continue until 26 April. Every day interesting malaria facts are shared with Tuks FM listeners, including students and personnel of the university. Highlights will include interviews with various postgraduate UP ISMC students who will talk about their research, promoting the Institute but also conveying very relevant and important information on new and innovative methods being researched to eradicate malaria. It is the view of the UP ISMC that malaria will not be beaten by continuously using existing methods, but by incorporating new and innovative methods into the classic methods, to eventually End Malaria for Good.
Representatives of Tuks FM and the UP ISMC will raise awareness of both the disease and the Institute on the Mamelodi Campus from 18 to 21 April, the period during which the Tuks FM malaria show is aired. The Merensky library on Hatfield Campus will host a malaria display from 18 April until the end of May, and SciEnza will host a malaria talk for school children (grades 8 to 10) on the Mamelodi Campus.
On 24 April, as part of the display at the Merensky library, Prof Lucille Blumberg from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) will give a presentation on the malaria headlines that captured media attention earlier this year but also on a big problem disrupting South Africa’s plan to eliminate malaria by 2021, namely cross border and travel malaria. (See UP social media platforms and the UP web for the necessary information.) Prof Blumberg will also take part in the Tuks FM Malaria Awareness week by participating in an interview shortly after her presentation.
On World Malaria Day itself (25 April), the UP ISMC student forum will be available in the Hatfield Piazza from 11:00 until 14:00, where undergraduate students who are potentially interested in malaria-related research can meet and ask questions about this to the young researchers. The students will be joined by representatives from Goodbye Malaria (GBM), an initiative started by African entrepreneurs who believe that African creativity can solve one of Africa’s biggest problems. In 2016 the UP ISMC and GBM signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the aim of establishing a Research Centre of Excellence at Namaacha in Mozambique where researchers can work on malaria and educate the surrounding communities. Mr Sherwin Charles, CEO of Goodbye Malaria, will also be interviewed by Tuks FM on 24 April.
GBM will host a pop-up store on the Piazza where they will sell GBM merchandise including their very popular Malaria Relate bracelets and pyjama pants. The funds generated from sales by the pop-up store, and other GBM stores country-wide, go towards the Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS) vector control programme in Mozambique, where GBM spray teams spray insecticides in the homes of thousands of people affected by malaria in order to kill the vector and stop the transmission of the disease. Why raise funds for Mozambique’s malaria control? Because malaria doesn’t acknowledge borders and people crossing into South Africa contribute towards our malaria cases and mortality rates and have a negative impact on our country’s elimination agenda. Up to now a million GBM bracelets have been sold and $1 million has been raised for the malaria elimination initiative! A new target of selling 5 000 bracelets has been set for the period 13 to 25 April. The UP ISMC is aiming to help them reach their goal by encouraging students to purchase the bracelets at the pop-up store or at any GBM store country-wide. Students are encouraged to take a photo of themselves wearing their bracelet(s), tweet it to the GBM’s account and stand a chance to win a prize. UP students can claim a discount at the GBM online shop (www.goodbyemalaria.com) with the promo code #UPEndMalaria.
For more information on malaria, the UP ISMC, the ‘Are you aware’ Malaria Awareness Week, World Malaria Day initiatives across the globe and the Malaria Relate bracelet campaign, go to www.malaria.up.za, the UP End Malaria Facebook page or the UPEndMalaria Twitter page, and listen to Tuks FM from 18 to 26 April. Answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) on malaria are also available on the website.
– Author University of Pretoria Institute for Sustainable Malaria Control