Well, there’s good news and bad news. We’ll start with the bad news.
By the time you finish reading this article, it is likely that at least one child somewhere in the world will have perished after an agonizing struggle against malaria.
The statistics are alarming: Just eight years ago, malaria infected 247 million people. As global health interventions by behemoth NGOs like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation made significant strides in policy practices—insecticide spraying, distributions of mosquito nets, increased staffing of health facilities, and innovative drug treatments —such grim numbers successfully decreased. But not enough.
In 2012, 207 million clinical episodes were recorded, with hundreds and thousands of deaths, especially among women and children. Approximately 600,000 to 1,000,000 people continue to perish every year, imposing substantial costs of at least $12 billion USD to the international community; that’s even excluding the indirect costs of lost worker productivity and the more significant, unquantifiable despair to the families of the victims. Even for the minority that survive a diagnosis of malaria, further life can be harsh: many develop impaired hearing, developmental disorders, or a variety of other bodily complications that often inhibit participation in school, the workforce, and family. Malaria’s ubiquitous influence among developing societies made it, according to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading cause of death in most of the developing world. The vaccine movement for many decades had been met to no avail, prompting St. George’s University of London Professor Sanjeev Krishna’s statement that, “The landscape of malaria vaccine development is littered with carcasses, with vaccines dying left, right, and centre.”
Nevertheless, the global health community has persisted in its fight against the lethal disease, and several multilateral institutions such as the United Nations, through the efforts of prominent philanthropists, have pledged goals to counteract further spread of the disease. Researchers have vamped up efforts to see to the disease’s dismissal from the list of already-numerous public health problems —these efforts unlike others have already been immensely successful.
What was once grim prognostication has now become a realistic source of optimism, and here’s why:
In May of this year, BBC reported that a team of researchers from the United States and the United Kingdom’s London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine had conducted a study in which they took blood samples of 1,000 children in Tanzania—children who had developed natural immunity to malaria—and extracted a key antibody. They then injected that antibody into mice for clinical trials. The results were compelling, as the antibody protected the mice from the disease. Moreover, revisiting the children 18 months after the injection of the RTS,S vaccine, researchers found that after Phase III Clinical Trials, the number of malaria cases decreased by 50% in young children and 25% in infants. Overall, a recent update in BBC reported, “For every 1,000 children who received the vaccine, an average of 800 illnesses could be prevented.”
Now that is fantastic news.
Developer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) created the vaccine with the Path Malaria Vaccine Initiative, a non-profit organization funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The organization has claimed that scientists are currently modifying the drug treatment—creating a booster to further augment efficient delivery—to improve success rates and raise approval prospects for global use with the European Medicine’s Authority.
As the disease’s reach has been mitigated further and further, the international community has witnessed a paradigm shift in its assumptions about its strength and pervasive behavior. Although still potent, the disease has increasingly cleansed itself of the underlying intimidation factor, demonstrating the power of hope and hard work in drafting a solution to a morbid problem.
In a matter of months, the wait for a cure may finally be over. It may seem idealistic, but just like in 1979 when the World Health Organization officially certified the eradication of smallpox following vaccination campaigns throughout the 20th Century, our generation may be the first to proclaim a malaria-free world, henceforth confining the disease to a mere set of verbal descriptions in our history textbooks.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Impact of Malaria.” Global Health – Division of Parasitic Diseases and Malaria. March 26, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/malaria/malaria_worldwide/impact.html
Frangoul, Anmar. “Targeting Killer Diseases Under the Microscope.” CNBC News. June 3, 2014. http://www.cnbc.com/id/101722941
Morelle, Rebecca. “Immune children aid malaria vaccine hunt.” BBC News Science & Environment. May 22, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-27522950
Mundasad, Smitha. “Milestone for child malaria vaccine.” BBC News Health. July 29, 2014. http://www.bbc.com/news/health-28541939
The Scripps Research Institute. “Mission and description of GO Fight Against Malaria.” World Community Grid. 2013. http://gofightagainstmalaria.scripps.edu
Image Credit: Scavetta, Rick. “U.S. Army medical researchers take part in World Malaria Day 2010, Kisumu, Kenya April 26, 2010.” Flickr: Creative Commons. Flickr, n.d. Web. 2 August 2014. <https://flic.kr/p/7WkRfD>.