50 years of Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research

29.08.2018

The Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research (PNGIMR), a long-standing partner of Swiss TPH, celebrates its 50th anniversary. Swiss TPH will take part in the anniversary colloquium from 28 to 31 August 2018 to highlight the fruitful collaboration between the two institutes and to further strengthen efforts towards malaria elimination.

Recent trends in malaria in Papua New Guinea show a worrying increase, despite strong efforts being made towards elimination. (Photo: Olga Fontanellaz)

From 28 to 31 August 2018, the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research (PNGIMR) is celebrating its 50th anniversary, bringing together local and international researchers to discuss challenges and successes in the field of medical research in Papua New Guinea (PNG).

Swiss TPH researchers Hans-Peter Beck and Manuel Hetzel will participate in a panel discussion and symposium to highlight the collaboration and research partnership that has existed since 1976. "The collaboration with our colleagues in PNG is a great example of an international research partnership benefitting both PNGIMR and Swiss TPH." said Hans-Peter Beck, Head of the Molecular Parasitology and Epidemiology unit at Swiss TPH.

Worrying increase of malaria in Papua New Guinea

PNG is at a key stage of controlling and eliminating malaria, having achieved large reductions in prevalence throughout the country following mass distribution of mosquito nets. Despite this encouraging progress, there are risks of widespread rebounds. While the prevalence of malaria in PNG declined substantially until 2014 mainly thanks to the availability of mosquito nets; between 2014 and 2017, the country experienced a sudden increase.

"This worrying surge in malaria is probably due to a combination of factors including insufficient number of nets, fatigue with regards to their use, stock-outs of anti-malarial drugs, and the widespread habit of malaria mosquitoes in PNG to bite outdoors and in recent years, to bite earlier in the evening." said Manuel Hetzel, Research Group Leader in the Health Interventions unit at Swiss TPH. "To eliminate malaria from PNG in the long run, more resources need to be invested to strengthen the health system, increase coverage with interventions and test and deploy new and innovative tools."

Hetzel will present the results of four nationwide malaria surveys at the Annual Symposium of the PNG Medical Society following the anniversary colloquium.

Longstanding Swiss-PNG partnership

For decades, Swiss TPH researchers and PNGIMR have worked towards controlling and eliminating malaria in PNG through laboratory and clinical studies and large scale operational research and impact evaluations. Swiss TPH has also been actively engaged in capacity building, supporting several young scientists from PNG to study at Swiss TPH and obtain a master's degree at the University of Basel.

Swiss TPH and PNGIMR are supporting the national malaria programme and are involved in a new round of nationwide malaria evaluation from 2018 to 2020. Both parties are also involved in field studies which investigate reasons for on-going residual transmission of malaria.

Research in malaria diagnostics

Swiss TPH together with PNGIMR and other partners recently published a study in The Lancet Infectious Diseases assessing the minimum essential sensitivity of diagnostic tests for detection of asymptomatic malaria patients in PNG. Results found that rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs), including a novel ultra-sensitive RDT, cannot replace molecular diagnostics for identifying potential malaria transmitters. These findings will help guide future malaria interventions in elimination settings such as PNG.

Future plans for an evaluation of an automatic malaria slide reader as an innovative diagnostic tool are also in the works, which could play a significant role in malaria surveillance activities.