Is technology the magic bullet to end the spread of malaria through blood?

Winning the war against malaria is not just the right thing to do, it is also a smart investment we can make for the future.

As the world makes strides towards achieving universal healthcare and well-being by 2030, the 25th of April marks World Malaria Day. Malaria is the fourth most burdensome infectious disease globally.

In 2017, the estimated cases reached 219 million in 87 countries with around 435,000 deaths. In 2017 alone 266,000 children died of Malaria. According to the World Health Organization, this is 61 per cent of all malaria deaths registered worldwide.

This means every two minutes a child dies from malaria, a disease that is both preventable and curable. Data also shows that children aged under 5 years, are the most vulnerable group affected.

After a remarkable period of success in malaria control and progress, the number of cases has been rising since 2015.

In Kenya, Malaria remains a major public health problem and accounts for around 16 per cent of outpatient consultations. Malaria transmission and infection risk is determined largely by altitude, rainfall patterns, and temperatures, which offer a favorable environment for the breeding of mosquitoes.

Data from the Malaria Operational Plan 2018 shows that 70 per cent of the population is at risk of malaria with 14 million people in endemic areas.

Management and the control of the disease requires attention and sensitization all year round to ensure that children and mothers who are most vulnerable, have access to preventive and curative interventions.

Education and awareness on how Malaria is acquired and transmitted is critical so that everyone can apply preventive measures.

For example, very few people know that Malaria can be spread through blood transfusion-donations collected from asymptomatic or parasitic donors.

Transfusion-transmitted malaria (TTM) is an accidental Plasmodium infection caused by whole blood or a blood component transfusion from a malaria infected donor to a recipient.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has reported that transmission of Malaria by blood transfusion is a significant public health problem especially in the malaria endemic regions of the world with pregnant women and children being the most at risk.

A study done by 7th Multilateral Initiative on Malaria (MIM) Pan African Malaria Conference shows the high prevalence of malaria parasites in blood for transfusion in Sub-Saharan Africa could be a major setback in the fight against the disease in the region. 

Ensuring safety of blood and blood management is a solution to controlling transfusion of the disease to patients. Regular screening of blood is an essential component that can potentially end transfusion transmitted malaria.

Another important solution is ensuring an adequate, sustainable and safe blood supply; one of the key challenges facing the continent. If we can ensure that we have a regular pool of blood donors all year round the chance is high that we can control the spread of Malaria through blood.

New innovations also present prospects for malaria intervention. In Ghana, Terumo BCT, a global leader in blood component, therapeutic apheresis and cell therapy technologies, worked closely with the National Blood Service Ghana (NBSG) on initiatives for blood safety to complete the African Investigation of the Mirasol System (AIMS) clinical study at the Komfo Anokye Teaching Hospital in Kumasi.

The study demonstrated a significant reduction in malaria transmissions through blood transfusion using whole blood treated with the Mirasol® Pathogen Reduction Technology (PRT) system.

The technology uses a combination of riboflavin (vitamin B2) and ultraviolet light to inactivate white blood cells in whole blood for transfusion. As a result, the Mirasol PRT system was approved for use by the Ghana FDA in August 2016.

Zanzibar has gone as far as to get drones to survey mosquito breeding areas.

Our neighbors have invested a lot in innovation and I believe as a country we have the capacity and the skills to do the same. Kenya can learn a lot from its neighbors and even adopt some of these innovations to fight Malaria.

Kenya as a country can invest more in curbing the spread of the disease through transmission by investing in technologies that can screen for safety of blood before it is given to a patient.

As leaders converge in Paris on the 25th for the World Malaria Day, it is my hope that the talks will lead to solutions that can address the challenge of transfusion transmitted Malaria for Africa’s most vulnerable populations.

The collective success in malaria management is substantial, but is also fragile and must be sustained. There is need for more partnerships in the public and private sector to find solutions that can reduce the cases of Malaria in the Continent.

We must focus more investments in innovative approaches and technologies that can detect and control the spread of the disease especially through transmissions in blood.

Winning the war against malaria is not just the right thing to do, it is also a smart investment we can make for the future. Less malaria means fewer days missed at school and work, and hence a more productive society.

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