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Harvard University

MalariaX: Defeating Malaria from the Genes to the Globe

Harvard University via edX


How can we eradicate malaria, a disease that has caused more deaths than the two world wars combined? Can modern data science help us in eliminating this mosquito-borne disease? How do the biology, ecology, and epidemiology of the malaria-causing parasites Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax differ? Explore the scientific and technological underpinnings of malaria, as well as the historical, political, social, and economic contexts in which control, elimination, and eradication efforts unfold.

Through foundational lectures, case studies, SimState scenarios, and interviews with experts, MalariaX provides learners with a toolbox of knowledge and analytical skills to understand one of the deadliest diseases ever known. By exploring multidisciplinary aspects of malaria, this course demonstrates how understanding social and economic factors is crucial to developing a successful integrated approach to national and local malaria eradication efforts. Learners will be guided through the analysis of real-world data and its effective use in the development of context-specific interventions to achieve sustainable and equitable impact against malaria.

MalariaX contains new findings, examines recent innovations in prevention and treatment, and explores the knowledge gap for tackling malaria. This course also explores how data is used to model malaria transmission dynamics, evaluate the different strategies used to eliminate this disease, and inform decision-making to achieve a malaria-free world.

The self-paced nature of the course allows learners to access essential malaria knowledge on their own schedule. Learners with an interest in gaining new technical knowledge, global health expertise, and decision-making skills, including those already working in the field of global health and malaria are suited for this course.


Module 1: Setting the Stage for Malaria Elimination

The course begins with the "big picture." In the lecture, Dr. Pedro L. Alonso, the head of the World Health Organization (WHO) Global Malaria Programme, offers an overview of the progress made—as well as challenges encountered – in malaria control and towards malaria elimination over the past decade. The module contextualizes these trends in WHO’s ongoing transition from promoting a "one-size-fits-all" strategy to tailoring and targeting interventions according to local and regional epidemiological, environmental, and political contexts.

Module 2: The Biology of Malaria, Part 1

This module provides foundational scientific knowledge for the course, including important biological aspects of the malaria parasite, the mosquito vector, and the human host. In this module’s lecture, Professor Dyann F. Wirth begins with a brief overview of how malaria came to be understood, then goes into detail on the parasite’s life cycle, how malaria affects humans, and the existing and sought-after tools to prevent and treat malaria. Finally, Professor Wirth reviews global endeavors to eradicate malaria.

Module 3: The Biology of Malaria, Part 2

In this module, Professor Manoj Duraisingh offers a deeper look at Plasmodium vivax , the most geographically widespread malaria parasite, and compares the biological differences between Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax. Professor Duraisingh will offer insights on current gaps in Plasmodium vivax biology, ecology, and epidemiology. Learners will gain insights on the difficulties in controlling Plasmodium vivax and possible solutions for the elimination of the parasite.

Module 4: Vector Biology and the Dynamics of Malaria Transmission

This module focuses on the Anopheles mosquitoes, which are the vectors that transmit malaria from human to human. Professor Flaminia Catteruccia discusses biological and anatomical features of mosquitoes that influence how the parasite is acquired from humans, develops in the mosquito, and is transmitted back to humans. Professor Catteruccia then discusses how current vector control strategies work, why they fail, and how an improved understanding of vector biology can lead to improved vector and parasite control strategies.

Module 5: The Dynamics of Malaria Transmission

In this module, the course delves deeper into the malaria transmission cycle, including how it can be interrupted. Professor Matthias Marti examines the cycle of malaria parasite transmission between humans and mosquitoes, including mechanisms of parasite sequestration in the human body, and the life cycle of the parasite in the mosquito. The module then applies these concepts to examine the dynamics of infectiousness and transmission. Finally, natural transmission-blocking mechanisms are considered in the context of the ongoing development of vaccines against malaria.

Module 6: Genomic Approaches to Malaria Elimination

This course module introduces learners to the contributions of the burgeoning field of genomics to understanding and controlling malaria. After introducing key genetic principles, Dr. Sarah Volkman uses data on genetics from Senegal, Panama, and Mozambique to describe how parasite populations are changing. Currently available genomic tools and methods, along with their application to inform key questions about malaria transmission, prevention, and treatment, are discussed.

Module 7: Social, Cultural, Behavioral, and Environmental Determinants of Malaria

In this module, the course’s focus shifts from the microscopic genes to a more global perspective. Using a systemic view of malaria, the module describes human and environmental factors that influence how malaria is manifested and how control efforts work. Professor Marcia Castro discusses various components of global "systems" that enable the continued existence of malaria, and presents historical examples that exemplify the importance of these components. Professor Castro also describes the challenges and the opportunities in the struggle to eradicate malaria that these human and environmental factors create.

Module 8: Political Analysis for Malaria

In this module, the course presents another analytical approach that has been repeatedly shown to be necessary for successful malaria programming, as well as for public health more broadly. Professor Michael R. Reich approaches the topic of malaria control and eradication policy from the realm of politics. This module provides overviews of principles of applied political analysis and analysis methods that can be used to promote appropriate policy reforms. Professor Reich walks through the use of PolicyMaker, a free open-source political analysis software, analyzing case studies including one on the Affordable Medicines for Malaria Facility (AMFm).

Module 9: Malaria Control and Elimination: Surveillance-Response Approaches

This module discusses disease surveillance, a health system function essential to malaria elimination. Surveillance—finding where and when transmission of infectious diseases takes place—is critical for deciding where to target public health actions. In the lecture, Professor Marcel Tanner provides an in-depth examination of how to use monitoring and evaluation (M&E), surveillance-response, and data analysis effectively for malaria control and elimination. Using case studies from Zambia, China, the Pacific Islands and Tanzania, the module provides practical guidance on developing surveillance-response approaches and discusses how surveillance systems can be incorporated into public health programs.

Module 10: Stratification: The Science of Malaria Elimination

In this module, Dr. Abdisalan Noor focuses on the analysis and use of malaria-related data to inform national and subnational strategic plans for malaria elimination, intervention targeting, and prioritization of resources. Learners will be introduced to concepts and metrics for malaria stratification, including the strengths and weaknesses of commonly used metrics for stratification. Dr. Noor discusses how stratification for elimination allows for focused, tailored responses by assigning specific intervention packages and deploying strategies to designated areas.

Module 11: Modern Data Science Approaches to Malaria

Mathematical models of malaria have been used for more than 100 years as a tool to facilitate the understanding of malaria transmission dynamics. In the final module, Professor Melissa Penny reviews the basis of modeling transmission and the current state of modeling strategies for malaria. Modeling elimination feasibility, different elimination strategies with mixed interventions in different transmission settings, and modeling the economics of elimination strategies will be discussed. Learners will gain insights on the potential impact and principles of applied modeling for public health action toward disease elimination.

Taught by

Marcia Castro, Flaminia Catteruccia, Michael R. Reich, Marcel Tanner, Sarah Volkman and Dyann Wirth


5.0 rating, based on 1 Class Central review

4.6 rating at edX based on 14 ratings

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  • Interesting course aimed at people working in the field of malaria elimination. The course briefly describes the malaria life cycle in the human host and the mosquito vector, then discusses many available and possible future strategies to reduce its incidence and transmission. Some prior knowledge of cell biology and DNA coding is useful, but absolute beginners could probably follow the course enough to pass. Many assessment questions focus on how to minimise the disease in several hypothetical countries.

    Specialists in various fields are featured. Many of the concepts discussed could also be useful for other mosquito-borne diseases such as Zika virus.

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