Ian Bathurst Global Health Travel Award recipient – Lemu Golassa Woyssa

Lemu Golassa Woyssa
2013
Lemu Golassa Woyssa, PhD student, Jimma University, Ethiopia

Current area of research: Genetic diversity and drug resistance in P. falciparum malaria       

1. What prompted your research interest in malaria?

I have a bunch of reasons to work on malaria. I contracted malaria myself when I was a student and will never forget the pain I experienced. Worst of all, I lost a best friend to malaria. To be hunted down by a mosquito and be infected with malaria in your own bed is incredibly distressing.

These days, some people are obsessed by exploring outer space and making it habitable, but poor people on our own planet are still dying of infectious diseases because they are unable to make their immediate environments habitable. For me, it seems immoral for malaria to still be such a major killer in Africa given that it is preventable. I feel an obligation to do something about it.

2. What is the burden of malaria in your country?

Three quarters of the Ethiopian landmass is malarious and unfortunately 68% of the population lives in this area. It is one of the three leading causes of morbidity and mortality in the country with falciparum and vivax malaria causing 60% and 40% of malaria cases, respectively.

Poverty and malaria fuel each other. For poor countries like Ethiopia, investing substantial resources every year to control malaria, which could have been invested in agriculture or food is difficult. It’s very often the case in Ethiopia that you have just USD 1 in your pocket, intended to pay school fees, and one of your family members contracts malaria. You’re in a position of stalemate.

3. What excites you about drug discovery?

For evolutionary or other reasons, drugs that were once effective against malaria are no longer. Indeed, drugs that are effective today will inevitably lose their effectiveness as well. Drug discovery helps to make sure there will always be new drugs in the burner to replace the old.

4. Can you explain what area of malaria biology you are researching and why it is important?

I am working on two areas of malaria biology: The first is why some P. falciparum infections remain asymptomatic while others are symptomatic in areas of seasonal and unstable malaria transmission. Malaria transmission is partly dependent on the epidemiology of asymptomatic malaria carriers – who may not know they have malaria but yet can still pass it on to the next person (i.e. remain infectious to the vectors). To make real progress towards malaria eradication we need to address these reservoirs of infection that may be missed by routine diagnostic tests. Then second, I am looking at the respective roles of symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers in the emergence of drug resistance. There is a need to be vigilant against the emergence of resistance to artemisinin, as this is the best drug we have against malaria.

5. What were the benefits of attending this drug discovery conference?

There were many benefits: It helped me better understand how much attention is being given to malaria research from both non-malaria endemic and endemic countries. It also helped me establish connections and share experiences with researchers from different countries.

6. What did you enjoy the most?

I was excited to hear about the strategies to defeat malaria and the commitment of donors and experts from non-endemic countries to support malaria research in Africa.

7. What are your near and long-term career goals and how has the keystone meeting helped you on the journey to fulfilling them?

My near-term goal is to complete a PhD on malaria and create partnerships with experts from developed and developing countries for further research activities related to malaria. In the long-term, I wish to continue working on malaria until it is no longer a major problem in Africa.