Multidisciplinary contribution to the fight against malaria

Malaria is the most infamous tropical disease, which still claims more than a half a million victims every year. The mosquito that transmits the parasitic disease is therefore the deadliest animal on Earth.

Over the course of the years, several generations of ITM researchers have helped stem the tide of malaria, which primarily affects young children in Africa. Many cases of malaria have also been diagnosed and treated at our travel clinic; but above all, hundreds of thousands of people have gone on their trip well-informed and with a pocket full of malaria pills thanks to the clinic.

Mosquito nets, which have already saved countless lives, are a big enemy of the malaria mosquito. However, the malaria mosquito is becoming used to the insecticides used to treat the nets and is therefore increasingly biting during the day and outside the home. A multidisciplinary research group, including biomedical specialists, clinicians and anthropologists, conducted a large-scale study under the direction of Prof. Marc Coosemans on the use of anti-mosquito lotion in villages. The intended effect was to create so-called community protection. Together with the Cambodian National Malaria Centre (CNM) and with financing from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ITM organised a randomised clinical study in 117 villages which included almost 50,000 people. With regular screening, the scientists saw no difference in the number of cases of malaria between the intervention and control villages. The anthropological component of this study showed that human behaviour represents the greatest obstacle to successful implementation of this strategy. For various reasons, people appeared to use anti-mosquito lotion much less frequently in reality than they indicated during the study. This is an important lesson, also for combatting other illnesses that are transmitted by mosquitos such as yellow fever, dengue and the Zika virus. In the coming years, ITM will make its contribution to further decreasing and ultimately eliminating malaria, among other things by helping develop and test innovative methods for combatting the illness.