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Harvard University

MalariaX: Defeating Malaria from the Genes to the Globe

Harvard University via edX


How can we eradicate malaria? 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 and supplemental interviews, this course provides participants with a toolbox of knowledge and skills. Learners will be guided through the analysis of real-world data and its effective use in problem-solving. Analytical approaches focus on how to develop and implement evidence-based intervention strategies to contribute to national and local malaria eradication efforts.

The target audience for the course includes those with an interest in gaining the technical expertise and leadership skills needed to work in global health and malaria programs around the world.

The self-paced nature of the course will allow learners to access it at their convenience.


Module 1: Setting the Stage for Malaria Elimination
The course begins with the “big picture.” In the lecture, Dr. Pedro 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 approaches according to local and regional epidemiological, environmental, and political contexts.

Module 2: The Biology of Malaria
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: Vector Biology and the Dynamics of Malaria Transmission
This module focuses on the Anopheles mosquitoes that are the vector that transmit malaria to humans. 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 improved understanding of vector biology can lead to improved vector and parasite control strategies.

Module 4: The Dynamics of Malaria Transmission
In the fourth 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 5: 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 6: Social, Cultural, Behavioral, and Environmental Determinants of Malaria
In the sixth 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 7: 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 8: 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.

Taught by

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

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  • Pat completed this course, spending 3 hours a week on it and found the course difficulty to be medium.

    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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