Molecular surveillance skills critical to eliminating malaria in West Africa

A five-day Molecular Surveillance training for malaria parasites was recently organised by the West African Network for Tuberculosis, AIDS and Malaria (WANETAM), for Post-Doctoral and PhD candidates from its member institutions. The training was held at the MRC Unit The Gambia at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (MRCG at LSHTM) from 27 January to 3 February 2023, and aimed at equipping participants with an understanding of the fundamental concepts and approaches in malaria molecular epidemiology and genomic surveillance.

The training brought together 12 Post-Doctoral and PhD candidates from WANETAM member institutions as part of a 24-month training programme toto build malaria clinical trial research collaboration and skills of participants from basic theoretical background to wet lab and bioinformatics tools for genomic surveillance of malaria. 

Dr Alfred Amambua-Ngwa, Professor of genetic epidemiology at LSHTM stated: “The malaria research community in Africa needs advanced technologies and skills to accelerate malaria elimination programs. Democratisation of genomic surveillance will give us one more weapon for enthusiastic young scientists fighting malaria parasites across the continent.” 

He added that the training specifically introduced participants to amplicon sequencing techniques and data analysis skills with Illumina and Oxford Nanopore Technology (ONT) for malaria genomic surveillance.  

Salimata Konaté, Post-Doctoral Candidate at the Malaria Research and Training Center (MRTC) in Mali highlighted that the training has enhanced her technical skills in genomic surveillance in malaria and is in line with her vision for contributing towards eliminating malaria in Mali. 

She added: “This training has equipped me with the skills I need to join the sequencing platform within my institution and leverage the tools I acquired to contribute towards widening the scope of our current study on the impact of Seasonal Malaria Chemoprevention (SMC) in incidences of malaria.”

As an outcome, the training is expected to prime the participants to implement pilot projects and support collaboration, knowledge exchange and skills transfer within and between their home institutions. 

Babacarr Sambe, Post-Doctoral candidate at Institut Pasteur de Dakar, said: “the training will help me to explore more comprehensive tools to arrive at an answer to my post-doctoral research question. The new skills I have acquired will support me in participating in future molecular surveillance interventions undertaken by my institution.”

Malaria is one of the leading causes of death in Africa, with the region accounting for 92% of all malaria cases and deaths globally according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Despite being a disease that is highly preventable and has available effective treatment mechanisms, malaria continues to severely impede the health and wellbeing of people across the region and around the world. As part of its mandate, WANETAM continues to invest in building capacities to evaluate new interventions to curb and subsequently interrupt malaria transmission, by exploring molecular techniques.