There has been a breakthrough in the fight against malaria, which is among the oldest and deadliest of infectious diseases: the first vaccine shown to be effective in preventing the illness has been approved by the World Health Organization. According to one estimate, it will save the lives of tens of thousands of youngsters every year.
Every year, about 500,000 people die from malaria, with almost all of them occurring in sub-Saharan Africa – including 260,000 children under the age of five. It is believed that the new vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, works by stimulating a child’s immune system to fight Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of five malaria infections and the most common in Africa.
The vaccine was approved by the World Health Organization on Wednesday, marking the first stage in a procedure that should result in widespread distribution in developing nations. Dr. Pedro Alonso, head of the World Health Organization’s worldwide malaria programmed, described the availability of a malaria vaccine that is safe, somewhat effective, and ready for distribution as “a historic event.”
Malaria is very uncommon in industrialized countries. Each year, just 2,000 cases of hepatitis C are reported in the United States, with the majority of cases occurring in visitors returning from countries where the illness is prevalent.
The vaccine, named Mosquirix, is not only the first to be produced for malaria; it is also the first to be developed for any parasitic illness, including dengue fever. Malaria is a parasite that is considerably more complicated than viruses or bacteria, and the search for a malaria vaccine has been ongoing for over a century.
In clinical studies, the vaccine had an effectiveness of about 50% against severe malaria in the first year, but by the fourth year, the number had fallen to almost nil. Furthermore, since the studies did not directly evaluate the vaccine’s effect on mortality, several experts have questioned whether it is a worthy investment in a country that already has a slew of other intractable issues.
According to a modelling research conducted last year, if the vaccine were to be implemented in nations with the greatest prevalence of malaria, it might save 5.4 million cases and 23,000 fatalities in children under the age of five per year, on average.
During a recent study of the vaccine in conjunction with preventative medicines given to children during high-transmission seasons, researchers discovered that the combined strategy was much more successful than either technique alone at avoiding severe illness, hospitalization, and death.
The malaria parasite, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, is a particularly cunning adversary because it has the ability to attack the same individual again. Children experience an average of six malaria episodes each year in various regions of sub-Saharan Africa, even areas where the majority of the population sleeps beneath insecticide-treated bed nets.
However, even if the illness is not deadly, the continuous attack on their bodies may permanently damage their immune systems, making them weak and susceptible to other infections in the future.