September 04, 2017

Research Roundup: Hope for an old TB vaccine, delivery drones, and malaria diagnostics

Program Assistant
PATH/Aaron Joel Santos

In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week.

The only existing tuberculosis (TB) vaccine—the bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine—has proven to be more effective than previously thought, delivering protection against the disease for around 20 years. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine led a study that found half of those individuals who were given the vaccine at ages 12 or 13 were protected against TB for at least 20 years. The vaccine was thought to deliver protection for only 10 to 15 years. These findings strenthen the case for administering BCG to children in low- and middle-income countries with high TB rates.

Dr. Henry Mukanzila of Kenya General Reference Hospital in Lubumbashi. (PATH/Georgina Goodwin)

The Tanzanian government has announced that in 2018 the country will begin using Zipline drones to deliver essential medical technologies to citizens in the capital city of Dodoma. The drone service can deliver everyday goods like food, but can also deliver live-saving medicines and vaccines, and contraceptives like condoms. Technology in low-resource and rural parts of the world has been used in the past to help diagnose and track diseases, but these technologies have proven challenging to deliver due to rugged terrain or geographic isolation. The Zipline drones are the first of their kind and can deliver products within a 50-mile radius. The Tanzanian Ministry of Health is working to add three more drone locations within the nation.

The University of North Carolina Chapel Hill is studying the efficacy of a rapid diagnostic tool for malaria in very rural areas of Uganda. Researchers testing the low-cost tool in these areas and found that it could perform diagnoses with high specificity and sensitivity for both uncomplicated and severe malaria. This level of accuracy in diagnosis may allow health professionals to prioritize treatment for cases that may be more life threatening than others. Accurately diagnosing children who contract a severe form of malaria makes it possible to prioritize cases and potentially save lives.