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Malaria Prevention and Control

 

Methods used to prevent the spread of disease, or to protect individuals in areas where malaria is endemic, include prophylactic drugs, mosquito eradication, and the prevention of mosquito bites.

 

The continued existence of malaria in an area requires a combination of high human population density, high mosquito population density, and high rates of transmission from humans to mosquitoes and from mosquitoes to humans. If any of these is lowered sufficiently, the parasite will sooner or later disappear from that area, as happened in North America, Europe and much of Middle East.

 

However, unless the parasite is eliminated from the whole world, it could become re-established if conditions revert to a combination that favors the parasite's reproduction. Many countries are seeing an increasing number of imported malaria cases due to extensive travel and migration.

There is currently no vaccine that will prevent malaria, but this is an active field of research.


 

Vector control

Before DDT, malaria was successfully eradicated or controlled also in several tropical areas by removing or poisoning the breeding grounds of the mosquitoes or the aquatic habitats of the larva stages, for example by filling or applying oil to places with standing water. These methods have seen little application in Africa for more than half a century.


 

Prophylactic drugs

Several drugs, most of which are also used for treatment of malaria, can be taken preventively. Generally, these drugs are taken daily or weekly, at a lower dose than would be used for treatment of a person who had actually contracted the disease. Use of prophylactic drugs is seldom practical for full-time residents of malaria-endemic areas, and their use is usually restricted to short-term visitors and travelers to malarial regions. This is due to the cost of purchasing the drugs, negative side effects from long-term use, and because some effective anti-malarial drugs are difficult to obtain outside of wealthy nations.

 

Quinine was used starting in the seventeenth century as a prophylactic against malaria. The development of more effective alternatives such as quinacrine, chloroquine, and primaquine in the twentieth century reduced the reliance on quinine. Today, quinine is still used to treat chloroquine resistant Plasmodium falciparum, as well as severe and cerebral stages of malaria, but is not generally used for prophylaxis.

 

Modern drugs used preventively include mefloquine (Lariam), doxycycline (available generically), and the combination of atovaquone and proguanil hydrochloride (Malarone). The choice of which drug to use depends on which drugs the parasites in the area are resistant to, as well as side-effects and other considerations. The prophylactic effect does not begin immediately upon starting taking the drugs, so people temporarily visiting malaria-endemic areas usually begin taking the drugs one to two weeks before arriving and must continue taking them for 4 weeks after leaving (with the exception of atovaquone proguanil that only needs be started 2 days prior and continued for 7 days afterwards).


 

Indoor residual spraying

Indoor residual spraying (IRS) is the practice of spraying insecticides on the interior walls of homes in malaria affected areas. After feeding, many mosquito species rest on a nearby surface while digesting the bloodmeal, so if the walls of dwellings have been coated with insecticides, the resting mosquitos will be killed before they can bite another victim, transferring the malaria parasite.

 

The first and historically the most popular insecticide used for IRS is DDT. While it was initially used exclusively to combat malaria, its use quickly spread to agriculture. In time, pest-control, rather than disease-control, came to dominate DDT use, and this large-scale agricultural use led to the evolution of resistant mosquitoes in many regions. If the use of DDT was limited agriculturally, DDT may be more effective now as a method of disease-control. The DDT resistance shown by Anopheles mosquitoes can be compared to antibiotic resistance shown by bacteria. The overuse of anti-bacterial soaps and antibiotics have led to antibiotic resistance in bacteria, similar to how overspraying of DDT on crops have led to DDT resistance in Anopheles mosquitoes. During the 1960s, awareness of the negative consequences of its indiscriminate use increased ultimately leading to bans on agricultural applications of DDT in many countries in the 1970s.

 

Though DDT has never been banned for use in malaria control and there are several other insecticides suitable for IRS, some advocates have claimed that bans are responsible for tens of millions of deaths in tropical countries where DDT had once been effective in controlling malaria. Furthermore, most of the problems associated with DDT use stem specifically from its industrial-scale application in agriculture, rather than its use in public health.

 

The World Health Organization (WHO) currently advises the use of 12 different insecticides in IRS operations. These include DDT and a series of alternative insecticides (such as the pyrethroids permethrin and deltamethrin) to both, combat malaria in areas where mosquitoes are DDT-resistant, and to slow the evolution of resistance. This public health use of small amounts of DDT is permitted under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), which prohibits the agricultural use of DDT. However, because of its legacy, many developed countries discourage DDT use even in small quantities.

 

One problem with all forms of Indoor Residual Spraying is insecticide resistance via evolution of mosquitos.


 

Mosquito nets and bedclothes

Mosquito nets help keep mosquitoes away from people, and thus greatly reduce the infection and transmission of malaria. The nets are not a perfect barrier, so they are often treated with an insecticide designed to kill the mosquito before it has time to search for a way past the net.

 

Insecticide-treated nets (ITN) are estimated to be twice as effective as untreated nets, and offer greater than 70% protection compared with no net. Although ITN are proven to be very effective against malaria, less than 2% of children in urban areas in Sub-Saharan Africa are protected by ITNs. Since the Anopheles mosquitoes feed at night, the preferred method is to hang a large "bed net" above the center of a bed such that it drapes down and covers the bed completely.

 

The extensive distribution of mosquito nets impregnated with insecticide (often permethrin or deltamethrin) has shown to be an extremely effective method of malaria prevention, and also one of the most cost-effective methods of prevention in East Africa.

 

For maximum effectiveness, the nets should be re-impregnated with insecticide every six months. This process poses a significant logistical problem in rural areas. New technologies like Olyset or DawaPlus allow for production of long-lasting insecticidal mosquito nets (LLINs), which release insecticide for approximately 5 years.

 

ITNs have the advantage of protecting people sleeping under the net and simultaneously killing mosquitoes that contact the net. This has the effect of killing the most dangerous mosquitoes. Some protection is also provided to others, including people sleeping in the same room but not under the net.


 

Vaccination

Vaccines for malaria are under development, with no completely effective vaccine yet available. Presently, there is a huge variety of vaccine candidates on the table.

 

Pre-erythrocytic vaccines (vaccines that target the parasite before it reaches the blood), in particular vaccines based on circumsporozoite protein (CSP), make up the largest group of research for the malaria vaccine. Other vaccine candidates include: those that seek to induce immunity to the blood stages of the infection; those that seek to avoid more severe pathologies of malaria by preventing adherence of the parasite to blood venules and placenta; and transmission-blocking vaccines that would stop the development of the parasite in the mosquito right after the mosquito has taken a bloodmeal from an infected person. It is hoped that the sequencing of the P. falciparum genome will provide targets for new drugs or vaccines.


 

Other methods

Education in recognizing the symptoms of malaria has reduced the number of cases in some areas of the East Africa by as much as 20%. Recognizing the disease in the early stages can also stop the disease from becoming a killer. Education can also inform people to cover over areas of stagnant, still water e.g. Water Tanks which are ideal breeding grounds for the parasite and mosquito, thus cutting down the risk of the transmission between people. This is most put in practice in urban areas where there are large centers of population in a confined space and transmission would be most likely in these areas.

 

The Malaria Control Project is currently using downtime computing power donated by individual volunteers around the to simulate models of the health effects and transmission dynamics in order to find the best method or combination of methods for malaria control. This modeling is extremely computer intensive due to the simulations of large human populations with a vast range of parameters related to biological and social factors that influence the spread of the disease. It is expected to take a few months using volunteered computing power compared to the 40 years it would have taken with the current resources available to the scientists who developed the program.

 

 


Acknowledgements

This text was partially adapted from texts available on the sites: World Health Organization, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Malaria Vaccine Initiative, Wellcome Trust, Medicine for Malaria Venture and and Roll Back Malaria. "