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MedUni Vienna researching the causes of Vivax malaria in Ethiopia

(Vienna, 16th September 2013) Vivax malaria is a special form of malaria which, untreated, continues to recur and can therefore be difficult to control. In large parts of Asia and South America, it is the most common form of malaria. In Africa, on the other hand, only the countries around the Horn of Africa, especially Ethiopia, are affected. One reason for this is the surface antigen DUFFY, which the parasite can dock onto and which is carried by many people in Ethiopia in particular. A team of researchers from the MedUni Vienna led by Harald Nödl is now working with the University of Gondar to research other causes of the widespread distribution of this form of malaria in Ethiopia.    

“Vivax malaria, if untreated, will recur and put infected individuals and their families in a vicious circle of illness and poverty," says Nödl. “We now want to find out why this form in particular is so prevalent. There are indications that the interaction of genetic factors and factors that affect the malaria parasites themselves has a key role to play.” Vivax malaria is a serious illness with a high fever which, if left untreated, can last for several weeks. It is however also capable of forming long-lasting dormant stages in the liver, known as "sleepers", which can lead to repeated relapses. According to the latest report by the World Health Organisation (WHO), there were around 666,000 cases of Vivax malaria in Ethiopia in 2011 alone.

The project in Gondar is based on collaboration between the MedUni Vienna and the local university aimed at increasing the focus of research into malaria on Africa.

Malaria experts to attend two-day conference in Vienna

The conference held on 19th and 20th September in Vienna will provide a forum for discussing the future direction of malaria research and development of new vaccines and medicines, especially in sub-Saharan African states from 2014 onwards, as well as what projects should be sponsored. The key players in the fight against malaria will be exchanging ideas at the Stakeholder Meeting of the European & Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), having been invited there by the MedUni Vienna and the Federal Ministry of Science in Vienna. 

“Many developing countries lack the money and infrastructure required to research and treat infectious diseases. It is the responsibility of the western, industrialised nations to pass on our knowledge and our achievements to others. We are able to do this through the EDCTP. The MedUni Vienna is able to contribute its expertise through international collaborations in fighting disease and capacity building, i.e. the training and further education of clinicians and scientists, but also of research ethics committees," says Christiane Druml, Vice Rector of the MedUni Vienna responsible for clinical matters and Austria's representative at the EDCTP General Assembly since 2006. Colleagues from the MedUni Vienna have in the past visited the Albert Schweizer Hospital in Lambarene, but also other sub-Saharan states, in order to assist African scientists with clinical research.

This unique partnership is shared by 14 EU states, Switzerland, Norway and sub-Saharan Africa and its specific aim is to join forces with businesses to sponsor projects in a joint programme aimed at fighting the three diseases of poverty, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, in the developing countries. The Gondar / MedUni Vienna project researching Vivax malaria is also hoping to garner support from one of the EDCTP programmes. The EDCTP was founded in 2003 with input from Austria.