A+ A-

On a mission to eliminate Malaria


More than half a million lives are lost to malaria each year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). And about 40% of the world’s population lives under constant risk of malaria infection.

This mosquito-borne disease remains a major public health, socio-economic and developmental challenge. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to be hardest hit with 89% of malaria cases and 91% deaths in 2015 alone.

What’s more, malaria control programmes are being threatened by rapid developing drug- and insecticide-resistant forms of the malaria parasite and the mosquitoes that carry it.

“One of the main factors adding to the struggle against the disease is that previously its complexity wasn’t really considered. We now know that we cannot target any of the disease’s three role-players (humans, mosquitoes and parasites) separately,” says Prof Lyn-Marie Birkholtz, Head of the Malaria Parasite Molecular Laboratory (M2PL) and SARChI Chair in Sustainable Malaria Control.


The solution lies in an integrated strategy that is adaptive, coordinated, and can continuously provide novel ways controlling all aspects of the disease – and maintaining this until it is eradicated globally, says Prof Birkholtz.

Malaria is caused by parasites and compared to the mosquitoes, which transmit these parasites to humans, they are more intricate and difficult to control. “We are fighting five species of plasmodium parasites which have adapted to the cold-blooded mosquito, as well as humans. They can be found in an infected person’s red blood cells and this means they are unlimited in their ability to cause disease and unfortunately, can also in rare cases spread through blood transfusion, sharing of needles etc.,” she explains.

Moreover, the parasites aren’t single entities. They change shape eight times during their life cycles and each form is different. “Antimalarial strategies targeting the parasite have to consider all of these variables – for treatment and preventing further transmission,” she says.

Identifying transmissible forms of the parasite is as important. Prof Birkholtz says this can be really difficult – patients can carry the parasite for months without knowing it. “With improved diagnosis of malaria parasite carriers and treating them effectively, we will be able to eliminate malaria.”

Prof Lyn-Marie Birkholtz


In Prof Birkholtz’ laboratory, the team focuses on two main questions: how to identify patients carrying malaria parasites and how to block these parasites from being transmitted between humans.

They lead a project that will allow the South African Malaria Control programme to identify patients that are malaria parasite carriers but do not necessarily show symptoms. The team has also taken a new and innovative approach to of discovering new malaria drugs able to prevent transmission – they combine information on the genomes of malaria parasites to discover new antimalarials.

The expertise of Prof Birkholtz and her team in the search for antimalarial drugs has led to the recent establishment of the South African Malaria Transmission-Blocking Consortium (SAMTC). Consisting of leading local researchers, the SAMTC is unique in the African context – this research platform aims to deliver antimalarials to eliminate malaria on the continent, if not worldwide. Internationally leading, the SAMTC partners with various other agencies working towards malaria elimination. This ability to identify malaria transmission blocking drugs is a major breakthrough for South Africa and Africa as whole and paves the way towards success in malaria elimination strategies on the continent.

For more information, contact Prof Birkholtz on: [email protected]

For an overview of her research: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Lyn-Marie_Birkholtz/publications

Image Gallery

Privacy Policy

The University is firmly committed to protecting the privacy of users of the website. No personal information about users of this website will be disclosed to a third party without the prior consent thereto by the user. (Personal information shall at all times be dealt with in accordance with the provisions of the Protection of Personal Information Act, 2013 (Act 4 of 2013).)

The University reserves the right to automatically collect information on users' usage of the website (for example, via cookies) in order to improve users' browsing and interaction with the University and for non-personal statistical purposes.

Changes to this privacy policy

The University reserves the right to change, amend, or update this privacy policy periodically.

Modifications to the website

The University reserves the right to modify, change, amend or discontinue the website (or any part thereof) temporarily or permanently, without prior notice.


The University may provide links to other websites or resources. This does not imply the University's endorsement of such sites. The University does not have any control over these websites and will, therefore, not be liable for any damages whatsoever arising from the utilisation of these websites by users.

The University does not prohibit third-party sites to link to publicly visible content on this website. However, it is expressly prohibited for any third party to frame any page on this website in any way whatsoever without the prior written approval of the University.

University of Pretoria proprietary rights

The copyright and other intellectual property rights (which include the University’s brand and logo), which are owned by or licensed to the University, existing in and attaching to this website, are the property of the University. These include but are not limited to text, content, design, layout, graphics, organisation, digital conversion and other information related to the website.

Users are granted a non-exclusive, non-transferable, revocable licence to:

  • access and use this website strictly in accordance with these terms;
  • use this website solely for personal, non-commercial purposes; and
  • download or print out or distribute content from the website, or any part thereof, solely for personal, non-commercial purposes, provided that all copyright and other intellectual property notices therein are unchanged.

Any reproduction of the content of this website, or a portion thereof, must include the following copyright notice: ©University of Pretoria. Users who wish to use the content from this website for commercial purposes may only do so with prior written permission from the University.


This website is for information purposes only. No representations or warranties are given by the University of Pretoria (hereafter referred to as the University) regarding the accuracy of the information this website contains, any material this website provides for or any part of this website. Any reliance by the user on any information this website contains, any material this website provides for or any part of this website, is at the user’s own risk and the University shall not be liable in any way whatsoever in respect of the user or any other person, directly or indirectly, arising from the utilisation of the information this website contains, any material this website provides for or any part of this website.

The user hereby agrees that in the event of any dispute arising from the utilisation of this website in any manner, form or substance whatsoever, the relevant South African law will apply and the appropriate courts of South Africa will have jurisdiction.

Terms & Conditions

By accessing this website, the user hereby agrees to the following:

The use of this website is at the user’s sole risk. This website is provided on an "as is" and "as available" basis. The University gives no warranty that (i) the information posted on this website will meet the user’s requirements; (ii) the information posted on this website will be uninterrupted, timely, secure, virus free or error free; and (iii) the information posted on this website will be accurate or reliable.

Any material downloaded from or otherwise obtained through this website is utilised at the user’s own risk, and the user will, therefore, be liable for any and all damages of any nature whatsoever arising from such utilisation of the website.

Limitation of liability

The user expressly understands and agrees that the University shall not be liable for any damages (subject to the provisions of Chapter 2 of the Consumer Protection Act, 2008 (Act 68 of 2008) (even if the University has been advised of the possibility of such damages) resulting from: (i) the use or the inability to use the website; (ii) the cost of procurement of substitute goods and services resulting from any data, information or services obtained or messages received or transactions entered into through the website; (iii) unauthorised access to or alteration of the user’s transmissions or data; (iv) statements or conduct of any third party on the website; or (v) any other matter relating to the website.