While efforts to control malaria have historically focused on children under five years old and pregnant women, little is known about the prevalence and impacts of malaria in older children. Yet, researchers at the University of Maryland who work in Africa have found that school age children actually have the highest burden of malaria.
At the University of Maryland School of Medicine, researchers have conducted surveillance in communities and schools in Malawi to explore how best to protect this group of children. They and others have found that efforts to prevent malaria in school age children may also help curb the spread of malaria to other members of their household.
The research and treatments will not only address and track infections among these children, but it may also help in curbing the spread of malaria to others. Typically, this age group has limited access to treatment compared to younger children and adults. For example, researchers have found that fewer children aged 6 to 15 years old sleep under bed nets or have sought medical treatment when compared to younger children or adults.
“School age children have so little access to health care. They are among the most under-served populations in resource-limited settings because so many programs focus on disease treatment and prevention in the youngest children and yet they aren’t able to seek out care by themselves the way adults do.” said Miriam Laufer, MD, Director of UM SOM’s Division of Malaria Research, during a panel discussion at the American Society of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene annual meeting in Baltimore.
She added that the advantages of school-aged interventions may extend beyond malaria to treating other diseases. Dr. Laufer’s team has shown that school age children who have malaria infection are more likely than any other age group to have gametocytes, the form of malaria parasites that are transmissible to mosquitos. Fellow investigators from Burkina Faso have shown that because of this, and their low likelihood of sleeping under a bed net, school age children are responsible for most of the malaria transmission to mosquitos, suggesting that interventions that target this group may actually lead to less malaria in the whole population
Researchers highlighted that malaria interventions based at schools are very appealing as all children are already found in single location, making the cost of delivering interventions lower.
Dr. Laufer and Lauren Cohee, M.D., Instructor of Pediatrics, have been investigating the best strategy to reduce the burden of malaria in school age children and determine the impact on malaria transmission.
Submitted by Joanne Morrison, University of Maryland School of Medicine