Nuclear Science Fights Malaria
IAEA-supported projects are driving efforts to more widely apply nuclear science and technology in the global campaign to fight malaria, which still claims more than two million deaths a year, mostly children in the world's poorest countries. Molecular methods using radioactive isotopes can help doctors obtain information vital to treating malaria and saving lives, even as radiation techniques are getting a closer look to control species of mosquitoes transmitting the disease.
Through a regional technical cooperation project -- involving Kenya, Mali, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe -- malaria monitoring and surveillance programmes are being strengthened in Africa to improve the diagnosis and treatment of patients. Treatment of malaria with drugs remains the cornerstone of patient management, but in certain regions, the parasites have developed resistance to common and affordable drugs used in treatment. Molecular methods greatly help physicians diagnose drug-resistant malaria. Their use can demonstrate drug resistance to some anti-malarial drugs in a matter of hours, compared to about a month for conventional methods.
Through a second project, the IAEA is conducting a feasibility study on using a radiation-based technology called the "sterile insect technique" to control mosquitoes that transmit malaria. The study's focus is on a major species that is the only vector of malaria in large parts of Africa. Among other aspects, researchers will look at how best to integrate the radiation technique -- which has a long track record against health-threatening pests - with other approaches now being used to control mosquitoes.
The projects are designed to support national, regional and global efforts -- including the Roll Back Malaria partnership jointly founded by the World Health Organization, United Nations Children's Fund, World Bank, and United Nations Development Programme - to combat the disease. Up to 500 million cases of malaria are clinically diagnosed each year, and as many as 3000 people die each day from the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa alone. The global aim is cut the burden of malaria in half by the end of this decade.
For more on this story, see "Nuclear Science Fights Malaria: Radiation & Molecular Techniques Can Play Targeted Roles", by Steffen Groth, Baldip Khan, Alan Robinson, and Jorge Hendrichs (IAEA Bulletin article).