Every two minutes a child dies from malaria. Imagine the devastating impact this has on families and their communities.

Malaria is an acute febrile illness caused by different species of parasite: Plasmodium falciparum, P. vivax, P. ovale, P. malariae and P. knowlesi. Falciparum causes the majority of malaria disease globally, but P. vivax is a second important cause of malaria and causes a high burden of disease in the Asia-Pacific region.

These parasites are transmitted to humans via the bites of infected mosquitoes, which cause malaria. They multiply in the liver, then infect the red blood cells, and if not promptly treated, may lead to death.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported 229 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2019, which resulted in 403,000 deaths, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. The incidence rate of malaria declined globally between 2010 and 2018, from 71 to 57 cases per 1000 population at risk. But between 2015 and 2019 it declined by less than 2%, indicating a slowing of the rate of decline.

The number of deaths has fallen from 736,000 in 2000 to 409,000 in 2019.

Pregnancy reduces a women’s immunity to malaria, and the disease can interfere with the growth of the fetus, increasing the risk of premature birth and low birth weight – a leading cause of child mortality.

Burnet Institute's malaria research

Discover more about Burnet’s malaria work in Episode 8 of our How Science Matters podcast.

Burnet Institute is committed to making a major contribution in efforts to eliminate malaria as a public health threat, particularly in the Asia-Pacific region. We work with partners in Australia and internationally, especially in malaria-endemic regions in the Pacific, Southeast Asia and East Africa (including Papua New Guinea, Myanmar, Vietnam, Lao PDR, Kenya, and Cambodia). We also collaborate with industry partners in development of vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics.

Burnet’s latest discoveries and innovative approaches

  • Discovering new insights into how drug resistance may emerge in populations and how to better quantify and monitor its spread.
  • Identified new antimalarial compounds with potential for development into drugs.
  • Identified immune responses that protect against malaria and new approaches for vaccine development.
  • Developing new low-cost diagnostic tests to guide the treatment of malaria.
  • Developing novel tools to enhance surveillance and tracking of malaria in populations.
  • Established the real-world effectiveness of repellant distribution in large-scale disease prevention programs in Myanmar and demonstrated that it can prevent a third of new malaria infections.
  • In affected communities created strategies to address gaps in health services and coverage to improve diagnosis, treatment, and prevention.

Drug resistance

According to the WHO, antimalarial drug resistance is a major concern for the global effort to control malaria.

Resistance to Artemisinin - a group of drugs used to treat malaria caused by the P.falciparum parasite - has been confirmed in countries including Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Vietnam. The presence of the molecular markers of Artemisinin resistance has been reported in Bangladesh, India, Myanmar and Thailand.

Burnet’s Eliminate Malaria program:

Burnet's Eliminate Malaria program

Burnet’s Key Strategies:

The landmark 1st Malaria World Congress 2018 (MWC2018) raised awareness internationally about the huge global challenges to eliminate this devastating disease. Find out more. Burnet’s malaria researchers and Congress Founder, Professor Brendan Crabb AC played a key role.

Anopheles mosquito which spreads malaria

Current Projects

  • Antibody engineering to study responses mediating protective immunity

  • APPRISE - Centre for Research Excellence

  • Broadly neutralising anti-HIV antibodies and Fc Receptor function

  • Clinical studies on malaria

  • Decision science using Optima

  • Developing new antimalarial drugs that block protein trafficking

  • Developing vaccines against malaria

  • Discovering the mechanisms and targets of immunity against malaria

  • Evaluating a highly sensitive rapid malaria diagnostic in PNG

  • Evaluation of Malaria Case-Based Reporting using a mobile phone application in Myanmar

  • Evidence and action for malaria elimination in Myanmar

  • Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies

  • HMHB - Health Services for Postnatal and Infancy Care

  • HMHB: The impact of nutrition, malaria and STIs on pregnant women and infants

  • Host and parasite factors that predict Artemisinin Resistance reservoirs

  • Host red blood cell modification sustains the virulence of malaria parasites

  • Immunity to malaria and infectious diseases during pregnancy

  • Immunity, drug efficacy and spread of antimalarial drug resistance

  • Impact of declining transmission on immunity and risk of malaria rebound

  • Iron deficiency anaemia and adverse birth outcomes in a malaria-endemic region of Papua New Guinea

  • Major advances in understanding malaria immunity and biology

  • Mechanism of antimalarial drug action

  • NATNAT: Newly Adapted Tools and Network Against Mosquito Borne Disease Transmission

  • Optima Malaria Modelling

  • Optimal community-delivered malaria elimination models for the Greater Mekong Sub-region

  • PAVE PNG - PArtnership for Vivax Elimination

  • Serological surveillance to identify mosquito exposure and malaria transmission

  • Stellabody® Technology in Infectious Disease – COVID-19 and beyond

  • STRIVE PNG: Stronger Surveillance and Systems Support for Rapid Identification and Containment of Resurgent or Resistant Vector-Borne Pathogens in Papua New Guinea

  • Vaccines against Plasmodium vivax and P. falciparum malaria

Past Projects

  • New treatments for malaria

  • Understanding the acquisition and maintenance of antibodies against malaria