Good news emerges about a malaria vaccine


In Africa and elsewhere, COVID-19 dominates media attention. Yet malaria has probably killed four times more than COVID-19 in the past year in Africa. The disease is caused by a parasite, plasmodium, not a virus or bacteria. The disease does not confer any immunity and an individual can catch it repeatedly; in some parts of Africa, people get malaria on an annual basis. Europeans were not immune to malaria and the disease was killing so many that it closed West Africa to them.

The good news is that the first tests of a new vaccine, R21, show an effectiveness rate of 77 percent. It remains to be seen how long the vaccine will be effective. Work on a malaria vaccine has been underway for years, with remarkably low success. Part of the difficulty has to do with the parasitic nature of the disease – parasites are more complex than viruses or bacteria. Part of the answer has been a relatively small investment in vaccine research by drug companies; disease mainly affects the poor in low-income countries.

Safer:

Pharmaceuticals and vaccines

Infectious diseases

Public health threats and pandemics

Maternal and child health

Sub-Saharan Africa

The new vaccine is a further development of Mosquirix, a vaccine with an efficacy of 56 percent after one year, dropping to 36 percent after four years. Mosquirix was developed by GlaxoSmithKline in collaboration with the US Army Walter Reed Research Institute and PATH, a nonprofit health care organization.

To spread, the disease needs an insect vector – a female Anopheles mosquito and human blood. In humans, the parasite migrates to the liver and from there to the bloodstream. A mosquito can bite an infected human and then spread the disease by biting another human. In adults, the disease is rarely fatal, except in pregnant women and those with weak or weakened immune systems, and the severity of symptoms decreases as individuals age. Deaths mainly affect infants and children, not the elderly.

In adults, the illness resembles the flu, with fever, chills and fatigue. In terms of the loss of human participation in the economy, malaria is a huge burden on Africa. Until now, malaria prevention has focused on the mosquito: insecticide-treated mosquito nets are an effective and inexpensive intervention, while a variety of prophylactic treatments can also reduce disease progression after infection.

Safer:

Pharmaceuticals and vaccines

Infectious diseases

Public health threats and pandemics

Maternal and child health

Sub-Saharan Africa


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