During the next five years, Wageningen UR and the Academic Medical Center (AMC) will be conducting malaria research in South Malawi. The study should lead to a significant reduction in malaria mortality among children and adults. The local population will play a central and active role in the research by means of a participatory approach.
During years 1-3 of the project, the efficacy and economic feasibility of various combinations of three anti-malaria techniques will be studied. In years 4 and 5, the best combination of techniques will be introduced in the region. The research is being funded by the Dioraphte Foundation and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. In total, €5 million has been allocated to the study.
Anti-malaria-programma in Majete Wildlife Reserve
The Majete Wildlife Reserve is located in southern Malawi. The wildlife management in the park has been supported for some time by the Dioraphte Foundation. Partly as a result of this involvement, the Dioraphte Foundation requested Willem Takken of Wageningen UR and Michèle van Vugt of the AMC to determine whether an anti-malaria programme in the area surrounding the park would have a positive impact on the public health in the region and in the park itself.
Takken and Van Vugt investigated the possibilities and perspectives in the region. They came to the conclusion that malaria cannot be properly controlled in the region and that prevalence of malaria results in greater impact from other severe diseases. In addition, they concluded that the poor health of the local population is a threat to the wildlife management in Majete Park. In modern wildlife management, the local population is engaged so that they also advance in socio-economic terms, but malaria is an obstacle to this progress.
Combination of malaria research
As a result of the findings of Takken and Van Vugt and the approach they developed, the Dioraphte Foundation decided to provide financial support to this project. The approach is a combination of research for identifying the best usable technique, or combination of techniques, and the introduction of the best method.
During the study phase, test facilities will be established at three locations surrounding Majete Park. At each facility, the effectiveness of various combinations of techniques will be studied:
- sealing houses with insect screens;
- using a biological agent to treat stagnant water that provides a breeding ground for malaria mosquitoes;
- using the so-called rollback technique, which is a combination of mosquito nets and medication.
Wageningen UR experts in vector biology and participatory communication
The project involves experts from a wide range of scientific disciplines. Wageningen UR is supplying experts in vector biology and participatory communication, while the AMC is providing experts in infectious diseases and epidemiology. Understanding the processes within the local community is crucial for the success of the study and the introduction of the best method. Consequently, the project will also involve sociologists from the University of Malawi. The Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine is supporting the study by analysing the various combinations of techniques. The funding has enabled four young PhD students to be appointed to work on the project.
Local population will play a central and active role
The local population of about 130,000 people, united in approximately 20 community-based organizations (CBOs) surrounding Majete park, will play a central and active role in the research. They will be involved in modifying the houses, treating stagnant water, distributing the mosquito nets and similar activities. As a result, the research phase will be very similar to the situation that will exist following the introduction, when the researchers will be much less involved in the region. Following the study, the local population will also be better equipped to make decisions regarding public health.