Achieving victory over malaria in Africa requires training and funding Africa malaria researchers and scientists. This view was expressed at the recently concluded Pan-African Conference on malaria in Yaounde, Cameroon. One of the highlights at the conference was the Young Malaria Scientist Award. This year’s recipient is Genevieve Fouda, a 27-year-old Cameroonian PhD research student at Georgetown University in Washington. Her research, still in progress, is on how babies can be protected from malaria during the first few months of their lives.
Ms. Fouda told English to Africa reporter James Butty that the first thing her research team did was to develop a technique to measure antibodies against several antigens at the same time, using a small amount of blood. She says antibodies are proteins that are secreted by the organism for self-protection, and these antibodies are secreted against some molecules called antigens. Ms. Fouda says measuring antibodies is usually done separately, but she says this is difficult to do in babies since you cannot collect a large volume of blood. Ms. Fouda says her research team also studied antibodies that are transferred from the mother to the baby during pregnancy. She says they protect the baby against common infections during the first few months of life until the baby is able to develop its own antibodies. Ms. Fouda says through her research she is trying to identify molecules from the parasite that could protect the baby. She hopes this information will lead to the development of a vaccine that will eventually help babies. Ms. Fouda says one limitation that African researchers have faced is lack of funding. As a result, she says African researchers must collaborate with researchers from the developed world. Still, Ms. Fouda says African scientists studying malaria are doing a good job. She says among the 13 runners-up for the award she won, 11 were from Africa. Ms. Fouda says when she completes her studies, she would like to return to Cameroon to work as a researcher and a clinician because that’s where her services are most needed.