Innovative Malaria Research in Southeast Asia: a UCI GHREAT Initiative (Video Review)

by Niniola Soleye

The University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine) recently released the first video in their four-part series showcasing the success of their Global Health Research, Education and Translation (GHREAT) Initiative. The initiative is headed by IH section member Dr. Brandon Brown. The goal of the video series is to demonstrate how GHREAT projects are enhancing health and saving lives all over the world. This first video was shot in Thailand and focuses on malaria research in Southeast Asia.

Myanmar has the largest number of malaria cases in Asia. Due to the poor economic conditions in the country, people immigrate to neighboring countries, including Thailand, to look for employment opportunities. Additionally, there has been an increase in drug-resistant malaria and an influx of counterfeit drugs. That, coupled with poverty and people not having funds to travel to the hospital or buy medicine, has resulted in malaria becoming a major public health problem in the region.

UC Irvine faculty, staff, and students partnered with the ministry of health, hospital workers, local health workers, and academic researchers in China, Myanmar, and Thailand to study malaria control in the border regions, and develop solutions for containing the malaria outbreak.

The video shows the UC Irvine team observing local health workers as they perform diagnostic blood-tests for malaria in Thai villages. Their observations led them to focus their efforts for this project on developing an innovative, non-invasive diagnostic test using saliva instead of blood.

Untreated, malaria can lead to death two to three weeks after infection, so early diagnosis and treatment are key. Blood testing requires workers to send samples away daily, delaying the start of treatment. Using saliva would allow for a fast, portable, low-cost diagnostic tool, all critical factors in a developing country setting.

One scene that stood out showed a young child getting tested for malaria. She was crying because she didn’t want to get her finger pricked, and also because she was afraid of the health worker. In situations like that, the new test would be quite beneficial.

Overall, the video does a good job of emphasizing how direct, firsthand experiences and observations are important when trying to innovate and solve problems in global health. I would have liked to hear more about the technique behind the saliva test, their border control efforts, how they plan to deal with the counterfeit drug problem, and how they’ll address drug-resistant malaria but the video doesn’t go into detail on those topics.

Click here to watch the video.

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