Swiss TPH Designated WHO Collaborating Centre for its Expertise in Malaria

On the 25th of April we commemorate World Malaria Day. Malaria remains a major public health issue in many low- and middle- income countries. Over 200 million new cases are detected every year and over 400,000 people die annually from malaria. Swiss TPH contributes to the fight against malaria through its activities in basic research, vector control, capacity building and technical assistance. Swiss TPH was recently designated a WHO Collaborating Centre recognizing a history of collaboration with WHO and providing a formal framework for future joint activities.

An Expert Hub for Malaria

Following years of fruitful collaboration, the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) has been designated WHO Collaborating Centre for Modelling, Monitoring and Training for Malaria Control and Elimination. “Swiss TPH is a highly respected academic institution in Switzerland, with a world-class reputation in global health research and action,” said Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme. “The institutes’ long-term expertise in malaria research, control and elimination will be highly valuable in supporting WHO’s capacity to implement its mandated work in the global push toward prevention and in the long term vision of a world free from malaria.”

As a WHO Collaborating Centre, Swiss TPH is a valuable resource as an extended and integral arm of WHO’s capacity to implement its mandated work.  In particular, Swiss TPH will provide technical inputs for evidence reviews that contribute to  WHO policy recommendations and guidance. For example, Swiss TPH experts will review a combination of core interventions such as long-lasting insecticide-treated nets and indoor residual spraying that are aimed at preventing malaria to support the development of updated WHO policy guidance. The agreement also acknowledges Swiss TPH’s efforts to advance malaria control and elimination through the development, validation and application of novel diagnostic techniques, innovative modelling approaches, and teaching and training methodologies. “We are thrilled to be working ever more closely with WHO and our network of partners towards ending malaria,” said Jürg Utzinger, Director of Swiss TPH. “The designation reflects our historic contributions to WHO, broad expertise and deep commitment in the field.”

From Research to Application

Swiss TPH has a long-standing history in diseases of poverty. Malaria research has been a core focus since the institute’s foundation in 1943. Today, some 200 specialists work on various aspects of malaria in Basel and abroad. Activities range from basic research on the molecular characteristics of host-parasite interactions to the development of new drugs, vaccines and other tools, and finally to new strategies for integrated programmes to control and eliminate the disease. Swiss TPH is active in many malaria endemic countries and regions. “No roots, no fruits; or in other words: you need to go to the field to understand people’s problems and improve their health,” said Marcel Tanner, Director Emeritus of Swiss TPH. “Adapting integrated elimination approaches to a given social, ecological and cultural setting is key to end malaria.”

Swiss TPH Contribution to Reducing the Malaria Burden

“We have come a long way in reducing the burden of malaria,” said Christian Lengeler, Head of the Health Intervention Unit at Swiss TPH. “In the 1980s, I worked in Tanzania and from my office I could see the mortuary where constantly bodies of children who died of malaria were brought in.” Since then, major progress has been made. For instance, infection prevalence by Plasmodium falciparum – the predominant malaria parasite in the world – was halved in endemic Africa and the incidence of clinical disease fell by 40% between 2000 and 2015 as shown in a recent study published in Nature.

The widespread use of insecticide-treated nets has been by far the most important intervention, contributing 68% of all averted cases.Swiss TPH research and project implementation have contributed to these achievements. With the NETCELL project, for example, Swiss TPH has been supporting the Tanzanian government to reduce the malaria burden in the country. As a result of the massive distribution of insecticide-treated nets, Tanzania has seen a 48% decline in all-cause mortality in children under the age of 5 years between 2000 and 2010. More than 60,000 child deaths are averted every year as a direct result of this programme.

Tackling Resistance

Despite these successes, malaria remains a challenge to global health. In 2015, an estimated 212 million new cases of malaria were detected and 429,000 people died due to the disease, of which 303,000 were children under the age of 5 years. Drug resistance and insecticide resistance pose new challenges in the fight against malaria. In particular, parasite resistance against the most effective treatment – artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT) – has emerged in Southeast Asia.

Hence, new tools are needed to prevent, control and eliminate malaria. In collaboration with partners from the industry and academia, Swiss TPH works in antimalarial drug and vaccine development. For example, a new chemical compound – ACT-451840 – has recently shown to be highly effective against the most deadly and resistant malaria parasites in humans.

Similarly, new findings about the protein CyRPA have contributed to advances in vaccine development against malaria. To date, RTS,S/AS01 is the most advanced vaccine candidate and Swiss TPH was much involved with partners in its development.

International and Swiss Collaboration

Swiss TPH collaborates and coordinates global platforms for vector control and case management through the Roll Back Malaria Partnership. “Creating strong networks with the participation of all stakeholders will help us achieve malaria elimination. There is a need for multi-sectoral action,” said Konstantina Boutsika, Co-Head of the new Collaborating Centre .

Swiss TPH is also member of the Swiss Malaria Group that brings together research and public institutions, private sector and civil society. The common goal is to retain and strengthen Swiss commitment to end malaria. On the occasion of World Malaria Day, the Swiss Malaria Group announces the winners of its worldwide photo and video contest. A jury of international photographers and experts selected the most powerful photos and videos that show the stories of the daily life in malaria-affected regions.

Finally, training and capacity building is an essential component to achieving a malaria free world. As part of an academic consortium Swiss TPH, together with Harvard University and the Barcelona Institute for Global Health, launched a series of innovative leadership courses to prepare the next generation of leaders in malaria control and eradication.

25.04.2017 by Sabina Beatrice    

Christian Lengeler

Christian Lengeler, Professor, PhD

Group Leader, Head of Unit

About WHO Collaborating Centres