Nuclear Techniques for the Zero Malaria Agenda

A few days ago, World Malaria Day was marked, to let people know of the world’s efforts to control and ultimately eradicate malaria. The day which is observed annually on 25th April remains more relevant than ever before since Malaria still exists in more than 100 countries worldwide, with nearly half of the world’s population at risk (Global Health, Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria, 2021).

 

Ekene Kwabena Nwaefuna: Assistant Research Scientist Biotechnology Nuclear Agriculture Research Institute, Ghana Atomic Energy Commission

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the countries with the highest number of cases are India, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ghana, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Uganda, and Tanzania. These countries account for 70% of the global malaria cases and 71% of global estimated deaths from malaria. In 2019, the Africa Region was home to 94% of malaria cases and deaths worldwide. In this same year, about 229 million cases of malaria were recorded with an estimated 409,000 malaria-related deaths.

 

This notwithstanding, the world has since 2000, made historic progress against malaria, saving millions of lives. A feather in the cup is the 2020 World Malaria Report which suggests that the South-East Asian countries reduced in cases by 73%. The number of deaths due to malaria also reduced by 74%.

 

However, according to the WHO, progress against malaria continues to plateau, particularly in high burden countries in Africa. Gaps in access to life-saving tools are undermining global efforts to curb the disease, and the COVID-19 pandemic is expected to set back the fight even further. Even so, funding for this preventable, treatable disease, which costs a child’s life every two minutes is dwindling and must be addressed

 

Despite these challenges, Ghana continues to make impressive progress in its fight against malaria, not only in the area of therapeutics but also in research. The Biotechnology and Nuclear Research Institute (BNARI) of the Ghana Atomic Energy Commission (GAEC) has been deeply involved with mosquito and malaria-related activities for the past 20 years.

 

The institute has been in collaboration with its partners such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (LSTM), Centre for Research in Infectious Diseases (CRID), National Malaria Control Program (NMCP), and Nuclear Regulatory Authority (NRA) in this regard. These collaborations have resulted in the implementation of various projects aimed at sustaining the usefulness of existing vector control tools and development of new tools as well as education and awareness creation.

 

The flagship nuclear-based Sterile Insect Technique (SIT) has proven effective against several insect pests and is currently being developed for mosquito control. Since 2006, GAEC with support from the IAEA has been researching how the SIT can be used against the major malaria vectors. The (SIT), which is based on irradiation-induced sterility, and incompatible insect technique (IIT), which is based on Wolbachia-induced cytoplasmic incompatibility (a kind of male sterility), are being developed as alternative methods to reduce mosquito vector populations. The technology is far advanced for Aedes mosquito vectors and it is anticipated that it would prove useful against malaria vectors.

 

In addition to its research activities, GAEC has since 2017 carried out Malaria Awareness Campaigns in communities where research is conducted to provide feedback on its findings and for social good. The first edition was held in 2017 at Dodi Island, the second edition held in 2018, at Okyereku, Gomoa East district, the third in 2019, held at Osrongba, a suburb of Dodowa in the Greater Accra Region. Last year was left out because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Plans are far advanced for the 2021 edition to be held at Atatam, in the Adansi North District of the Ashanti Region.

 

The campaign is done annually to commemorate the World Malaria Day celebration where the Commission shares its experiences in mosquito research, carry out malaria screening, and share community-specific malaria prevention techniques with the people. This year’s campaign is in partnership with the National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP) of Ghana and the AngloGold Ashanti Malaria Control (AGAMal), scheduled for Wednesday, 12th May, 2021 at Atatam D/A school as contribution to national and global efforts towards zero malaria.