The World Health Organisation has approved the world’s first malaria vaccine in a historic moment. But why is disease so deadly and why is the jab so desperately needed?
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Not until now, where finally, it seems a new vaccine could bring an end to the relentless plight of millions of people.
The disease is caused by parasites that are spread by infected mosquitoes and, so far, has been treated by the use of bed nets doused in insecticide alongside drugs.
These methods have seen significant improvement and the Center For Disease Control (CDC) reports that global cases fell 44 percent between 2010 and 2019.
Despite these efforts, 260,000 children in Africa died from the disease in 2019 alone. On average it claims the lives of 400,000 people annually.
Every seven seconds someone contracts it and every two minutes a person under the age of five succumbs to it.
Why is Malaria so bad in Africa?
While much of the world has the disease firmly in the rear view mirror, Africa remains a perfect storm for swift transmission. The CDC highlights some of the crucial factors for its ongoing battle:
- It is home to a highly efficient mosquito type responsible for high transmission rates
- The continent’s predominant parasite species is the one most likely to cause severe malaria and death.
- Much of the continent’s weather allows for year-round transmission.
- Scarce resources and socio-economic instability
It is, the CDC says, children and pregnant women who are most vulnerable to the disease because they have either not developed immunity yet, or have had it eroded during pregnancy.
Hospital treatment for malaria patients can be very expensive, which means for many families a choice has to be made: take a chance, or enter into poverty.
New Malaria vaccine
But now, with the approval of a vaccine, the tide may finally be changing.
Efforts to produce a vaccine have been ongoing for 100 years, and news of the WHO-approved jab, known as RTS,S or Mosquirix, could represent one of medicine’s biggest breakthroughs.
This particular vaccine has been in development for 40 years and will be administered in four doses to those over five months.
The vaccine, now officially considered safe for human use, has caused a 30 percent fall in severe or deadly cases during trials, the New Scientist reports.
Over a 12 month period it has an efficacy of 56 percent – far from the high rates we have grown accustomed to seeing during the development of the Covid-19 vaccine — yet it still represents a significant step forward in the combat of the disease.
A study published in Plos Medicine concluded that if 30 million doses of the vaccine are administered efficiently across select African sub regions, between 2.8 and 6.8 million cases could be prevent, saving the lives of between 11 thousand and 35 thousand children.