Malaria is probably the most ubiquitous disease known. The earliest known cases of malaria were reported in ancient Egypt – around 1550 BC.
In 2012, despite extensive efforts to eradicate the disease, malaria remains a massive global burden. In early October, over 300 scientists, clinicians and policymakers gathered at BioMed Central’s Challenges in Malaria Research conference in Basel, Switzerland to discuss the latest research on malaria.
Before we can start to take measures against the disease, we need to know the extent of what we are fighting against, so it is fitting that the conference started with a session on malaria surveillance. Richard Cibulskis of the World Health Organisation (WHO) started proceedings by discussing the challenges of obtaining accurate information about malaria distribution – it is believed that worldwide only 10% of all malaria cases are ever reported!
The meeting moved on to the eradication of malaria with four case studies from around the world highlighting elimination programmes in action. There have been success stories in Cape Verde, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Turkmenistan. The challenge now is to sustain the successful malaria elimination programmes in these countries.
Day two of the conference saw health systems and interventions for malaria being examined. Overall, the message was that medicines and diagnostic tools were not getting to the people that needed them. There is a lack of access, compliance and adherence which means that decreases in the effectiveness of malaria interventions. In addition, travel between countries has made borders ‘porous’ to malaria.
For an old disease, new cures are always needed because the parasite is constantly evolving and resistance to the current range of drugs is emerging. Tim Wells of Medicines for Malaria Venture discussed the array of new drugs that are in the pipeline. Exciting advances in the development of new vaccines for malaria were also presented.
The conference answered many questions, but clearly malaria is still a big global problem. We look forward to hearing of the progress made to overcome the remaining challenges at the next conference in 2014.