HUGHF focused on malaria for the second half of the spring 2018 semester. By concentrating on a specific disease, we were able to consider malaria from multiple lenses: we learned about the scientific basis for malaria, the cutting edge research working towards its eradication, and the opportunities available at Harvard to learn more.
We were excited to welcome Jaime Mchunu, the Program Manager of Harvard’s Defeating Malaria Initiative, to our first meeting on malaria. Jaime provided HUGHF with the building blocks necessary to study the disease further. She informed us of the progress that has been made towards its eradication: an 18% lower incidence between 2010 and 2016, 500 million mosquito nets distributed between 2014 and 2016, the eradication of malaria in of Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka in 2016, and more. She also filled us in on the challenges that remain: mosquitos are becoming resistant to specific insecticides and drugs and the rate of eradication has slowed. With these challenges in mind, Jaime told us how we could get involved: by participating in the Defeating Malaria Initiative’s online course, MalariaX, and by raising awareness about malaria on our campus.
Co-Activism Director Anthony Zhong ’21 gave a multiple-choice-style presentation that tested HUGHF’s knowledge of the core facts of malaria. Did we know that malaria is caused by a parasite, as opposed to a virus? Could we have guessed that a staggering 1,200 people die per day from malaria? Anthony described some of the biggest challenges facing malaria eradication efforts, including mosquito resistance to insecticides, fraudulent malaria drugs sold for profit, and climate change.
HUGHF dove further into the challenges presented by Anthony the following week. We read and discussed an article on a study in Tanzania, where a new insecticide, used on mosquito nets, was found to decrease incidence of malaria by 44% over the course of one year in the study population. The study highlighted the importance of continuing to create new insecticides due to increased mosquito resistance to old ones. A second article sparked a debate on whether malaria can be eradicated at all: some members sided with the article, arguing that it is impossible to eradicate malaria when the infrastructure for treatment delivery isn’t in place in many countries. Funding should target healthcare delivery rather than eradication, which has not yet been successful. Other members argued that efforts should continue to be directed towards eradication, as countries like Kyrgyzstan and Sri Lanka have seen success as recently as 2016.
HUGHF worked with the Defeating Malaria Initiative to organize Harvard’s second game of Malaria Assassins, with the goal of raising awareness about malaria on the Harvard campus while also building house spirit.
9 upperclassmen houses and all four freshman yards participated, each with their own game. In Malaria Assassins, each player was assigned a target within their house or yard whom they had to “tag” out using a poke. Once a player tagged out their target, they logged onto the game’s online platform, malaria.buzz, to answer a question or perform a social media task about malaria before receiving their next target. In addition, each time a player refreshed the screen, a new fact about malaria appeared. The player left un-tagged at the end of the two-week game was the winner!
270 Harvard undergraduates signed up to play the game, which took place from April 13 - April 25. Across our 2018 Malaria Assassins game, players answered a total of 102 questions and saw 2546 facts about malaria.
World Malaria Day:
Malaria Assassins culminated with a panel on April 25th, World Malaria Day, where four speakers shared the work that they have done to defeat malaria.
Our first panelists were Alastair Fung, MD and Arzhang Cyrus Javan, MD, both MPH candidates in Global Health at Harvard’s T.H. School of Public Health. Alastair and Cyrus spoke about their experience working with the Zambian Ministry of Health to develop Zambia’s National Malaria Elimination Center. Zambia is committed to a 2021 eradication of malaria. Alastair and Cyrus’ work in Zambia set the foundation -- through research on Zambia’s health system, conversations with government officials, and identification of challenges -- to reach this goal.
Andrea Smidler, a PhD candidate in Genetics and Molecular Entomology in Public Health at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health provided a different perspective on malaria, explaining her work on gene drives. Andie explained she creates gene drives using CRISPR to modify mosquito DNA, and this modified DNA is passed on very effectively to all offspring. We are looking forward to following how Andie’s research develops!
Kritika Singh, an undergraduate student at Northeastern University and the Founder and CEO of Malaria Free World, provided a fourth unique perspective on malaria. Kritika’s passion and determination to defeat malaria at such a young age was inspiring to undergraduates in the audience. Kritika explained her work educating children about malaria in countries including the US and India. Malaria Free World works to raise awareness about malaria in support of ongoing research and future research -- Malaria Free World hopes to educate and encourage kids who may eventually research malaria themselves!