The Pasteur Institute this week inaugurated a genetic research unit that will not only provide Cambodia with a new and powerful weapon against malaria, but will also make it possible to train Cambodian scientists in a highly specialized field.
The research unit provides the missing link in Cambodia’s fight against malaria, Health Minister Hong Sun Huot said.
It will cut the time required for laboratory analysis from weeks to hours, enabling doctors to prescribe malaria treatment without delay, thus increasing a patient’s chances of recovery.
“This [unit] is big league,” said Stefan Hoyer, medical officer for malaria control at the World Health Organization.
Malaria—especially its deadliest strain, Plasmodium Falciparum—has developed a resistance to drugs, he said. It usually takes a combination of drugs to combat it.
The National Malaria Center this year began to distribute “blister packs,” a combination therapy of Melfoquine and Artesunate, to counter the increasing resistance to other widely used medications.
However, those blister packs are also showing up in pharmacies and markets, experts said at a malaria conference last week. And sometimes the doses aren’t explained or prescribed properly. Misuse of drugs can lead to further resistance.
The Pasteur Institute lab could help the center respond to such situations in the community.
A doctor needs to know the type of malaria that afflicts a patient before prescribing a treatment. In a conventional laboratory, this can take weeks, said Yves Buisson, director of the Pasteur Institute in Cambodia. Now, scientists will be able to get genetic information on the strain and pass on details to the doctor within hours, he said.
The new laboratory will assist the National Malaria Center and WHO in their task, Hong Sun Huot said. Scientists at that molecular epidemiology unit also will study bacteria and viruses involved in the disease, and their ability to infect humans and resist drugs and vaccines.
With the new unit, doctors in Cambodia will have access to a facility usually only found in developed countries, French Ambassador Andre-Jean Libourel said.
The laboratory is the first one of its kind in Cambodia. It cost nearly $220,000 to build and equip. Most of the funding came from the Pasteur Institute organization based in Paris.
The investment is part of the Institute’s philosophy of studying a disease where it is known to occur, said Jean-Luc Durosoir, the Institute’s international network representative.
Whether they are aware of it or not, people are part of the ecosystem, which makes it “important to study [a disease] on location, in its natural context,” he said.
It’s also part of the Institute philosophy to ensure that scientists at each of its 20 facilities around the world are mostly locals and have an international standard of expertise, he said.
Among the 1,000 or so scientists working at those facilities worldwide, only 60 are expatriates, Durosoir said.
In Cambodia, the institute runs a training program in cooperation with Calmette Hospital and the Faculty of Medicine, Buisson said.
The scientific staff includes a number of Cambodians—two virologists, one epidemiologist and now one medical doctor on the genetic research team.