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Gates Foundation awards grant to tackle malaria

Can an innovative wallpaper-like liner help reduce the number of cases of malaria, and if so, will it be cost effective? Donald S. Shepard, a professor at the Schneider Institutes for Health Policy at the Heller School wants to know. And he has gotten the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to help. A grant, totaling nearly $500,000 over the next three years, will allow Shepard and collaborators to pursue their research in Kenya and Tanzania.

Shepard's four-person team includes Elizabeth Glaser, a doctoral student at Heller, Sareh Khoshi (M.S. '10), who will gather information in the US, and Aggrey Kihombo (Ph.D. '04), an expert in economic analysis in healthcare and faculty member at Mzumbe University in Tanzania. Kihombo is a former student of Shepard's.

"The research builds on a study that was launched a few years ago by the Centers for Disease Control in collaboration with the Kenya Medical Research Institute to measure the effectiveness of the wallpaper-like liner technology," says Shepard. "The material releases insecticides over several years. It has been found to be quite efficacious, and the economics of it are where we come in."

Recent data from results in Kenya found that the insecticide-treated wall liners cut malaria infections by 38 percent. To fully understand the benefits, Shepard and his team will be calculating additional outcomes, such as exploring the impact of childhood learning in the area school system. They will head to Africa in mid-February for two weeks.

According to the World Health Organization's Roll Back Malaria program, malaria kills 800,000 people in Africa each year91 percent of all malarial deaths worldwide.

Shepard estimates that the new technology could prevent as many as 300,000 deaths annually.

Shepard's four decades of research and teaching focus in the areas of international health, incentives to improve overall performance of the health system, and cost-effectiveness analysis. He specializes in HIV, cardiovascular disease, malaria and two other mosquito-borne illnesses--dengue and lymphatic filariasis.

Once the data are collected and analyzed, government agencies and members of donor communities will be among the most eager audiences as they seek to prevent those diseases.

"Malaria is one of the biggest killers in the world," says Shepard. "We've known how to treat it, but it's only been in recent years that prevention strategies have been implemented in a larger scale."

Currently, mosquito nets are the most widely implemented method to stave off malaria. The second strategy is indoor residual spraying. While progress has been made, Shepard hopes for more.

"This is one more very important tool that can overcome some of the limitations in existing technology and make a very substantial contribution," he says.

Contact: Susan Chaityn Lebovits
Brandeis University

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