An interview with Dr. Sara Canavati - Mostly Science

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An interview with Dr. Sara Canavati


Recently I had the pleasure of being a finalist in the 2015 Malaria Social Media Awards with Dr. Sara Canavati. Sara went on to win an esteemed award (the South-East Asia category) and I thought it would be jolly good to interview her.


Christopher Haggarty-Weir: Congrats on winning the 2015 Malaria Social Media Award in the Asia-Pacific category. What is the background to your nomination in the first place? (I.e. who nominated you and how do you fit into the Asia-Pacific category?).


Sara Canavati: The nomination is for individuals who use social media to promote and showcase the fight against malaria in Asia:

Here is more information on the definition of the nomination:

I was nominated by the Asia Pacific Malaria Elimination Network (APMEN): Facebook: Twiter:<^google|twcamp^serp|twgr^author>

I have actively collaborated with the Asia Pacific Countries in networking for malaria elimination. Sharing lessons learned, resources, training, concepts and ideas between and among country partners.

I am quoting APMEN Here:

“Sara is a champion promoter of malaria elimination activities in the Asia Pacific region, and particularly her project work in Cambodia […] Sara regularly shares her own and other colleagues photos and tweets that relay the message of ‘a malaria-free Asia Pacific by 2030’. She is a great example of when technical expertise combines with advocacy for malaria elimination. Deserving of a follow! #MFAP2030” – APMEN Secretariat 2015-06-12


CHW: So in terms of social media and malaria, what exactly do you do to use social media to spread information pertaining to malaria?


SC: I started social media since 2008 when I did my M.Sc at the University of Oxford. I believe in malaria elimination and have a great passion for it. I co-administer the Facebook page of the World Federation of Parasitologists:

In my ten years working in South East Asia, I have also tried very hard to connect my colleagues to the existing sources on malaria advocacy (especially Facebook and Twitter); rather than “reinventing the wheel”. I have personally invited my colleagues to the Facebook pages and Twitter accounts “ISGLOBAL – Barcelona Institute for Global Health”, “The Shoklo Malaria Research Unit”, “Asia Pacific Leaders Malaria Alliance – APLMA”, and the “APMEN”. Several hundreds of my colleagues have liked and follow these pages and they say they have been greatly benefited from it. I have also added email lists from out Cambodian Research Consortium to the Malaria Elimination Initiative/Global Health Group, University of California, San Francisco updates on innovative tools for malaria elimination. These are only brief examples of what I have done. I strongly believe that malaria advocacy is crucial for malaria elimination.


CHW: You’re obviously very passionate about malaria research. How did you first get into it and how were you inspired to try and make a positive impact in this field?

Additionally, tell us a little more about what you are currently working on with respect to malaria?


SC: My primary interests are:

*   drug efficacy studies

*   artemisinin and MDR resistance

*   malaria elimination

*   mobile and migrant populations and groups at higher risk of malaria



I am a senior research scientist and infectious diseases epidemiologist. I have been conducting clinical trials and malaria studies in the Greater Mekong subregion for the last 10 years. I have previously worked in northern Myanmar (Kachin State), Southern China (Yunnan Province), at the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit <> along the Thailand-Myanmar border and most recently with the Mahidol-Oxford Tropical Medicine Research Unit (MORU)<> based in Cambodia. I have been lately been assigned to be the technical lead for the Regional Artemisinin-resistance Initiative (RAI) for the Vietnam-Cambodia Component.


CHW: What do you see as the greatest challenges in your field?


SC: My field is a very tough one, I believe. Most of the work is undertaken at the field level so we rely on the field situation to conduct the work. The challenges in conducting drug efficacy studies are many. In order to eliminate malaria in the context of artemisinin resistance and multi-drug resistance we need to find the right combination therapies for infected individuals to clear parasites and stop the spread of disease. However, exclusion of migrant workers is a commonly accepted criterion for drug trials, due to obvious difficulties of follow-up.

It can’t be overlooked that migrant workers could be important subjects to include in malaria elimination related research as they may have different environmental (e.g.: living and working in forest areas); exposure (e.g. movement between areas of low and high endemicity) and other factors that may be important to consider.

Additionally the role of people living in these environments, with often-poor health care access, to the spread of drug resistant parasites has been identified. The importance of outreaching to mobile and migrant populations is critical in the endgame.

As noted in the Artemisinin Resistance Containment (ARCE) project by the WHO, innovative means to reach mobile populations are required. However, these methods of reaching and retaining mobile populations is often not logistically possible within projects without placing considerable strain on staff and resources. Understanding what is required to include a mobile patient in a study in terms of time, human resources, funding is important to make explicit to ensure the right and quality research is done .

In Western Cambodia migrant and mobile populations are common barriers to inclusion of study participants.

This is especially common in drug efficacy studies as many screened patients are migrants; hence not included in the study due to follow up issues.

If migrants are not included in clinical studies due to their mobility, then these studies might be missing out key effective populations that must be studied. However, an efficacy study requires 28-42 day follow up. The inability to reach the sample size required is an ever-present issue in malaria studies.


CHW: How do you see yourself utilizing social media in the future to spread information about malaria?


SC: I would like to get more engaged in social media to introduce the concept of malaria elimination to non-malaria audiences and get their support and buy in.


CHW: Thanks for your time. One final question; how can those passionate about malaria eradication, who might not have formal qualification, help?


SC: In my opinion and through previous experience, by using social media scientists can benefit enormously from it in two ways: by promoting their own work and by staying updated in others work. I have promoted my work and my colleagues work through social media. I find it sometimes very difficult to stay updated in other’s work and I find social media the most powerful tool to stay engaged and informed. Scientists can also stay updated on courses, meetings and other relevant events to their fields.

I have learned that social media is a very powerful tool to engage diverse audiences in malaria control and elimination. I have used it in audiences that are not in the malaria sciences and they have become interested in the cause and have also donated time and resources to malaria activities. I have also connected with many scientists though sharing their projects and publications on Twitter and Facebook. It is a very rewarding activity that I think all scientists should think of getting more involved in it.



This was originally an interview conducted for the World Federation of Parasitologists. You can check out their website here-

Additionally they have a Facebook page found here-













Dr. Christopher Haggarty-Weir

Vaccines, Immunology, Infectious Disease, Drug Discovery/Design, Molecular Biology, Business and Philosophy.

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