Insights into malaria in Papua New Guinea

Burnet Institute

24 June, 2018

Image: Dr Robinson (centre) working with PNG IMR staff, (L-R) nursing officers Sister Mary Salib and Sister Anastasia Kali, and Dr Maria Ome-Kauis, at Mugil Health Centre on the north coast of Madang, PNG. Courtesy: Mayeta Clark

Burnet’s Head of Vector-Borne Diseases and Tropical Public Health Group, Dr Robinson has spent the past 10 years living and working in Papua New Guinea (PNG), researching a disease that continues to impact the population, despite recent gains. She talks about her vital research into malaria.

The Researcher

Dr Robinson was lead investigator of a landmark 2015 study that revealed four out of five cases of P. vivax malaria and at least three out of every five P. ovale cases in PNG children, come from relapses rather than fresh mosquito bites. She headed the Vector Borne Diseases Unit at the PNG Institute of Medical Research (PNG IMR) in Madang from 2011-2017.

The Problem

“A large proportion of malaria infections evade existing surveillance programs and therefore remain untreated for long periods, transmitting the disease. New approaches to identify and effectively target high-burden areas or populations are urgently required.”

The Response

“I work on a highly collaborative program of malaria and infectious disease research that aims to define key factors sustaining residual malaria transmission. We also aim to develop new surveillance and intervention strategies to accelerate towards elimination.”

The Collaborators

“In close partnership with the PNG IMR and the Walter Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, I am involved in several research projects that will generate critical evidence to help development of such strategies. One of these projects involves working in close partnership with communities and the PNG control program to conduct health facility surveillance and in-depth community surveys testing for malaria infection, assessing human behaviour and measuring mosquito numbers and behaviour.

Image: (By Mayeta Clark) Dr Robinson processes samples with scientific officer at PNG IMR and Burnet, Ms Benishar Kombut. Courtesy: Mayeta Clark

“Another important ongoing project is the Australia, China, PNG Pilot Cooperation on Malaria Control Project, which brings Australian, Chinese and Papua New Guinean scientists and researchers together to collaborate on innovative methods to tackle malaria in PNG.

“This partnership focuses on strengthening PNG’s ability to diagnose malaria at its Central and field laboratories, supporting new research in diagnosis and treatment, and piloting an approach to cooperation that draws on each country’s expertise and has the potential to be scaled up and used for other sectors.”

The Target

“We aim to identify key parasite, host or vector traits that increase risk of infection and transmission despite sustained implementation of control measures."

The Inspiration

“My motivation to work in PNG stems from the extremely challenging context in which control programs are often being implemented and a strong desire to work with communities to develop, test or monitor interventions that can be effectively and sustainably implemented.

“In my career so far, my most rewarding moments have come from working with inspiring individuals who are able to conduct successful research in extremely challenging environments and then seeing that research directly guide policy change and program implementation.”

Burnet Institute is proudly supporting the 1st Malaria World Congress in Melbourne from 1-5 July featuring experts across research, policy, public health, international development and advocacy focused on eliminating malaria.

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


[email protected]

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