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Running Rings Around Malaria

Running Rings Around Malaria

On the surface, malaria, especially during the southern Zambian rainy season when mosquitoes breed, appears to strike at random.

“There’s so much variability in transmission of malaria in and around Macha,” says Greg Glass, PhD, professor of Molecular Microbiology and Immunology. “In some areas, 20 percent of the people are infected. But if you move a kilometer down the road, maybe only 1 percent are affected.”

Yet it’s by studying that very surface—the topography of Macha—that Glass’ team hopes to show that there are organizing factors behind malaria outbreaks, characteristics that may allow researchers to discern and treat the area’s most vulnerable populations. Utilizing digital technology, Glass and his researchers, notably postdoc Julie Clennon (now at Emory University), are creating elegant satellite maps that meld the work of several disciplines to create precise zones where malaria-carrying mosquitoes are most likely to reproduce and raise the risk of infection.

Building on the discoveries of researchers such as entomologist Doug Norris, who helped determine the types of breeding pools and foraging habits preferred by Anopheles arabiensis, the dominant malaria mosquito vector in Macha, Glass’ team developed hydrological models to show where water will flow and pool.

By integrating their findings with geographical information system (GIS) data—which show exactly where people live and work in the area, and how far vector mosquitoes are likely to fly to feed on humans (Glass’ group discovered the magic number is approximately 450 meters)—it becomes possible to create concentric rings around the breeding pools.

Glass says these colorful maps and rings can serve two control purposes: On the mosquito front, health ministries can attack breeding pools with targeted, cost-effective spraying programs that eliminate larvae prior to the rainy season. As for treating people, Glass says,  “we’re trying to supply researchers with an approach that says ‘here’s a way to do an epidemiological study, integrated with characteristics of the environment, to be able to identify who is likely to be in need of bed nets, ACT (artemisinin-based combination therapy), indoor residual spraying, rapid diagnostic tests,’ and to give administrators the tools to know how many doses of each they’re going to need.”

While the effectiveness of the maps is still being determined, Glass is optimistic about both their effectiveness and the ability of Hopkins to apply them to mosquito-ravaged areas such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. “One of the great things about this School is that, if we can show that this approach works, there are whole departments here that are designed to scale this up to a point where it can make an impact on a huge portion of the world’s population. To me, that’s intriguing and exciting.”                         


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  • Kathleen Stuebing

    Ndola, Zambia 01/13/2011 01:32:27 AM

    This is an excellent article that accurately presents Macha and the incredible ways through which Dr. Phil Thuma has brought relief from malaria. Both of our children were born at Macha by Caesarean section, and I had no complications or infection, attesting to the quality of the medical care in the middle of the African bush. Now Dr. Thuma has added his malaria triumph, which your article describes so well. We eagerly await the time when malaria is controlled to such a degree where we live in urban Zambia. Our students and their children regularly suffer from malaria. This is a wonderful story of hope for all malaria ridden places, and it rightly honors the man who has given his life to pursuing this goal--Dr. Philip Thuma. Thank you.

  • Lee Nell

    Florida, USA 11/14/2012 12:14:32 PM

    Great article about a great man. Phil is a genius, in my opinion, the most unassuming person I've ever known considering the miracles he's accomplished so far, and, I'm proud to say, my brother-in-law. As the article notes, he is totally committed to the people in and around Macha and to eradicating this dread disease. As I've always said, my money is on the tenacious Phil Thuma to win that battle. Maybe then, and I'm sure only then, would he even consider accepting some credit for his success in the remarkable life's work he has undertaken. Maybe.

  • Juliet Laverley

    Sierra Leone 07/13/2013 11:52:01 AM

    This is great work it takes a special person to make this happen, I wish we can clone Dr. Thuma for other areas in west Africa. Is there opportunity for adoption of best practice and protocols from his experience and success for other African countries with similar challenges?

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Macha Slideshow

Fighting Malaria in Macha

Photographer David Colwell journeyed to Macha, Zambia and returned with images and sounds of malaria research and prevention.

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