Melbourne’s bid to make malaria history

Tracy Parish

24 April, 2018

Dr Leanne Robinson, Head of Burnet's Vector-Borne Diseases and Tropical Public Health Group.

Ahead of World Malaria Day (25 April), Melbourne’s leading malaria researchers are grabbing the spotlight for their unwavering commitment towards eliminating malaria, a deadly disease which kills half a million people each year.

Malaria remains a preventable global health emergency and a disease which traps individuals, communities and countries in poverty.

Later this year world attention will focus on the 1st Malaria World Congress to be hosted in Melbourne from 1-5 July.

Georgina Jerums spoke with Dr Leanne Robinson from Burnet Institute and Dr Amanda Caples, Victoria’s Lead Scientist, about Melbourne’s role in helping stamp out malaria for Below is an edited extract of the article reproduced with permission.

Melbourne will host the State Government-supported inaugural Malaria World Congress from 1-5 July. A true game-changer, this will be the first time global stakeholders will gather for cross-sector collaboration.

Dr Leanne Robinson warns that globally we are at a “critical point” in terms of an eradication strategy and a resurgence in many countries is threatening gains made in the past decade. Dr Robinson spent the past decade living and working in malaria-endemic Papua New Guinea (PNG) with the PNG Institute of Medical Research before heading up the Vector-Borne Diseases and Tropical Public Health Group at Melbourne’s Burnet Institute.

Q&A: Dr Leanne Robinson, Burnet Institute

The inaugural Malaria World Congress aims to help foster a world-wide collaborative approach for malaria prevention. Why is that a big deal?

Such an event is a rarity, with many meetings focusing only on scientific breakthroughs without addressing system and community barriers. A collaborative global approach is the only way malaria eradication can be achieved. Parasites and mosquitos obviously don’t respect borders and the emergence of anti-malarial drug resistance in the Greater Mekong sub-region has demonstrated the speed with which major gains in reducing transmission can be lost. The 2017 World Health Organization World Malaria Report highlighted that many countries have reported a substantial increase in cases. It will take a concerted global effort to reverse these worrying trends: the global community needs to rally.

Bill Gates is a leading figure in this realm. How do you work with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation?

Over the past decade I’ve been an investigator on several malaria projects funded by the Gates Foundation including a trial of preventative treatment for malaria during infancy in PNG and studies investigating the changing epidemiology of malaria transmission in Brazil, PNG, Thailand and the Solomon Islands.

What attracted you to this area of research? Being fascinated by human biology and infectious disease alongside a desire to contribute to improving health for as many as people as possible through public health strategies.

Melbourne’s top research strengths

Victoria’s Lead Scientist, Dr Amanda Caples outlines where Melbourne’s malaria research community is really shining.

1. A long history of breakthroughs

“Melbourne is a recognised hub for malaria research, having been at the forefront of major breakthroughs over the past few decades. Most recently, our expertise in this area has been recognised with the award of a AUD$2.5 million National Health and Medical Research Council Centre for Research Excellence in Malaria Elimination to be based in Melbourne at the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, and involving leading Melbourne researchers from the University of Melbourne, Burnet Institute, plus Walter and Eliza Hall Institute (WEHI). Also, the recent formation of the Global Health Alliance Melbourne provides the opportunity to build on that research hub.”

2. Inter-country collaboration

“I’m proud of the fact that Melbourne’s malaria research community works collaboratively across Australia and in malaria-endemic areas such as PNG, the Pacific Islands, Africa and Southeast Asia to drive multi-disciplinary approaches to eliminate a disease responsible for more than 400,000 deaths each year. Each infection has a profound effect on the individual, the family and the broader community. Such a situation simply would not be tolerated in Australia.”

3. Leading from the front

“In my experience, Victorians from all walks of life are proud of the contribution our scientists make to global health issues. I have no doubt that the leadership shown by the Burnet, WEHI and Nossal institutes in convening the first Malaria World Congress to take a ‘systems’ approach to the eradication of malaria will inspire us all.”

Fast facts: malaria

  • In 2016 there were an estimated 216 million cases of malaria causing 445,000 deaths, the majority among young children.
  • Malaria remains endemic in about 100 countries, with more than three billion people at risk.

World Malaria Day, held on 25 April each year, highlights the need for continued investment and commitment for malaria prevention and control.

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Professor Leanne Robinson

Program Director, Health Security; Senior Principal Research Fellow, Group Leader, Vector-Borne Diseases and Tropical Public Health


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