WWARN’s Regional Centres open in Asia and East Africa

21 April 2011

Building capacity in malaria-endemic regions is a key WWARN objective. The needs of individual countries vary in relation to local challenges, resources and capacity. WWARN opened its first regional centre in Bangkok, Thailand in early 2010 to serve the Asia region where emerging artemisinin resistance is of grave concern. Scientific Director Dr Delia Bethell and a small team provide tools and training to promote collection of high quality data on antimalarial drug resistance.  These will help to determine whether artemisinin resistance has spread from the first reported site along the Thai-Cambodia border. 

A key aspect of the team’s work is offering tailored clinical study support to local researchers.  Last July, in collaboration with the Clinical Trials Support Group from Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit and the World Health Organization’s Mekong Malaria Program, the team carried out a needs assessment at malaria sentinel sites along the Thai-Myanmar border with staff from the Thai Ministry of Public Health’s Antimalarial Therapeutic Efficacy Study.  Based on the findings, in November the team co-organised specific training for field staff.  Last month similar training was conducted in Vientiane, Laos for staff from the Lao Ministry of Health and the Wellcome Trust, Mahosot Hospital, as part of the Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Collaboration.

Dr Bethell explains: “I feel strongly that we must work in partnership with all stakeholders and funders to support the regional research community which is in the front-line, trying to control and contain emerging artemisinin resistance.”

Regional team members are also working in coordination with the USAID-funded Greater Mekong Sub-region Molecular Surveillance Network towards a shared objective of building capacity of malaria genotyping laboratories throughout the region.

Jeffery Smith, GMS Network Coordinator, commented, “We must ensure that regional laboratories are ready and able to use a molecular marker for artemisinin resistance, once identified.  We held our first genotyping workshop in Bangkok last September where laboratory scientists from Burma, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Thailand and Vietnam received hands-on training led by international experts. The GMS Network recently rolled out a molecular laboratory quality assurance programme in seven laboratories, and we hope to expand this programme across the WWARN global network before the end of the year.”
The team has also established a Specimen Management Centre so that valuable clinical samples from surveillance studies and clinical trial sites can be archived for future use, for example to aid in identification of molecular markers for artemisinin resistance. For more information about these activities, contact Project Manager Jessica Fried.

Across the Indian Ocean, WWARN’s first centre in Africa is just opening its doors. Located in Nairobi, Kenya, the East Africa Regional Centre will be led by Dr Ambrose Talisuna.

Dr Talisuna’s work on drug resistance surveillance over the last 15 years, working for the Uganda Ministry of Health, the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp and later the Medicines for Malaria Venture, has helped to shape malaria treatment policy in Africa.

Commenting on his appointment, he said, “The threat of artemisinin resistance is a public health emergency that requires our commitment and resources.  For malaria endemic countries in Africa the consequences can be reduced by developing an early warning system, which I believe is an urgent priority.

“Africa needs a coordinated response, reactivating regional collaboration and sharing data to facilitate pooled analyses that will identify the first signs of resistance. WWARN plans to give momentum to these aims through capacity building, training and advocacy – many activities leveraging the successes of our colleagues in Asia - led out of the regional centres.”