World Malaria Day: Addressing Challenges and Advances in Malaria Research


Photini Sinnis MD, professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and Deputy Director of the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute, offers her expert insights into this zoonotic disease.

In Photini Sinnis', MD laboratory, the research primarily focuses on the transmission stage of malaria, which occurs through infected mosquitoes. However, her interests encompass all aspects of the parasite and the disease, reflecting a comprehensive approach to understanding and combating malaria.

"I don't really believe we're going to eradicate malaria... But I think we will be able to control it, eliminate it from many parts of the globe, and certainly decrease the deaths in children and hopefully do that, so that it's almost zero," Sinnis explains.

Malaria poses a critical challenge to global health, linking the complexities of parasitic infection with climate change and public health inequities. The disease, transmitted by mosquitoes, is caused by protozoan parasites of the Plasmodium genus, with P. falciparum responsible for the most severe cases. It spreads through the bite of an infected mosquito, introducing the parasite into the human bloodstream. The significant presence of malaria in Africa is attributed to the long lifespan of Anopheles mosquitoes and their preference for biting humans.1

"Malaria is a climate-driven disease," confirms Sinnis. "Because mosquitoes have a certain temperature range at which they can reproduce, they need a certain amount of humidity to live as an adult. And the parasite is also dependent on temperature for its development in the mosquito."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) monitors malaria as it becomes more prevalent in the US, emphasizing the risk of serious health issues and fatalities if untreated. In 2020, there were 241 million global cases and 627,000 deaths, mostly among young children in sub-Saharan Africa. Symptoms appear 10-15 days post-infection, with early testing crucial to prevent severe health complications.1

"There are places like the highlands in Africa, which are cooler and see a lot less malaria. But as they get warmer, we've actually been seeing more malaria there," says Sinnis.

Both vaccines have been deemed safe and effective in preventing malaria in children, who are disproportionately affected, especially in regions such as Africa, where nearly 500,000 children die each year from the disease.1

"When they're combined with some seasonal key malaria chemoprophylaxis, SMC, you give kids drugs during the transmission season, and you vaccinate," explains Sinnis. "Efficacy can go up to 85 or 90%. In terms of preventing disease, that's very promising."


Abene S. Navigating Malaria Control. ContagionLive. Published February 22, 2024. Accessed April 25, 2024.

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