Health Ministry, Harvard University conducting “cutting edge” study on malaria parasites

The Ministry of Health has partnered with the Harvard University, to carry out studies of the malaria parasite, to detect changes that may cause drug resistance, the findings of which, could contribute to global studies.

Minister of Health, Dr. Frank Anthony said Guyana could become one of the top centers once the project is successful. The study will use pioneering technology and techniques to sequence the malaria parasite and check for gene alterations that are common with resistance to medications.

Some of these parasites would develop resistance towards the treatment that is currently available, so we have seen that globally and when that happens the current medication is not going to work properly and therefore, when people get sick with malaria, if we are using the same treatment protocol, they would have challenges in getting better,” Dr. Anthony explained.

 He related that officials at the National Public Health Reference Lab have been trained in gene sequencing at Harvard University, while a gene sequencing machine has been acquired.

“Once we do the sequencing locally, the data that we collect, we would be assisted by the Harvard team to interpret the data so it’s a collaboration, we do part of the work, they will help us with the analytics, so it is a good collaboration because it allows our staff to learn new techniques and some of these are really cutting-edge technology that we are using and techniques that we are using,” Dr. Anthony said.

While the focus is on malaria, the same technique and equipment could be used for gene sequencing for the Covid-19 virus. Minister Anthony said this could be done locally by the end of this year.

Another collaboration, this time with the Oxford University, will see the use of ‘innovative’ techniques in Region Nine, to control malaria there.

“We don’t know if we don’t monitor and that’s why we have these projects to do specific types of monitoring, so the traditional way doesn’t work that well, so with the advances in science we can use molecular surveillance.”

The Ministry of Health has, in the last year, been distributing impregnated bed nets in the various hinterland communities, along with hammocks and nets in mining areas.

The health minister said there are 15,000 to 18,000 reported cases of malaria every year.

He is hoping that the distribution of bed nets, which has been very effective in other parts of the world like Africa, will see results in reducing the mosquito population and infection.