Pregnancy malaria risk shows need for research

26 January 2010

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Category: Research & medical benefits

malaria–moskito.jpgA new study which estimates that approximately 60% of global pregnancies are at risk from malaria will highlight the need for continued research into treatments for the disease.

Until now, figures had only been available in endemic areas in Africa, but according to the new research, the number of pregnancies at risk from malaria is over 125 million worldwide.

The findings highlight the extent to which the disease remains a major public health problem and one which requires urgent research. Animal research has up until now played an important role in developments for treatments of malaria and continues to do so. Rodents have been particularly useful in studying the malarial parasite and its reaction to vaccines. Today, non human primate models of malaria are vital in research that provides transmission, infection and disease models for experiments that can be conducted only with these experimental animal models.

To obtain these pregnancy statistics, researchers estimated the sizes of populations at risk of malaria and used data from various sources to calculate the annual number of pregnancies in each country. They then multiplied the number of pregnancies by the fraction of the population living within the spatial limits of malaria transmission in that country.

In the past combinations of methods have been used to combat the disease. Some countries have used the insecticide DDT to kill mosquitoes that may be carrying the parasite. Mosquitoes have also been genetically engineered to stop the parasite from being able to reside the in the salivary glands, effectively halting transmission into humans.

Another method focuses on developing anti malarial medication mainly aimed at the replicating stages of the parasite. However the parasite is able to evolve to evade these defenses, so only the most recently developed medicine is effective. In recent years there has been a greater focus on developing a vaccine for malaria. Many early studies have been conducted using animals and show promise. For example scientists have been able to develop a vaccine which targeted a toxin produced by malaria. Mice given the vaccine did not develop some of the symptoms of malaria, indicating that the toxin is important.

With these new figures, scientists hope funding into malarial research will increase, and believe it should help policy makers readdress the public health issue and allocate adequate resources for research.