Malaria Vaccine: Gates Foundation Helping to Beat Plasmodium Falciparum Killer
While other major-league killers such as smallpox and yellow fever have been virtually eliminated, the magic bullet of a really effective vaccine against malaria has, time and again, eluded researchers. But now fresh hope could be at hand. In November 2009, the Path Malaria Vaccine Initiative (Path MVI) funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the multinational pharmaceutical company, GKS, (GlaxoSmithKline), were confident enough to announce news of a new vaccine, known as RTSS, now in the final stages of development.
Extensive trials are being run in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Ghana, Tanzania, Burkina Faso and Malawi involving 16,000 under-fives, with the full co-operation of the governmental health authorities concerned. GSK is stressing that these trials are essential if the vaccine is to be given the go-ahead. If it is found that children given the RTSS vaccine develop a sufficient degree of immunity to the worst effects of the Plasmodium falciparum parasite spread by malarial mosquitoes, then it could be available for general uptake in three to five years.
Why Finding an Effective Malaria Vaccine is Urgent
In tropical and sub-tropical Africa, malaria has been around for as long as humans have been on the scene with their domestic animals living in proximity to wild animals. Finding a vaccine against malaria is urgent for many reasons:
- It is still a major killer, with young children accounting for most of the fatalities now running at nearly a million a year.
- A degree of natural immunity to the effects of Plasmodium has built up over time in African populations, but it can still cause bouts of serious illness and debility and death among adults.
- Many areas of Africa have conditions, both physical and handmade, that are all too favourable for the malarial mosquito to thrive.
- Existing methods of malarial prevention, while successful in many areas, offer no real hope for its complete elimination.
- Many drugs once effective against malaria have developed resistance to it.
- Malaria has long been recognised by the WHO (World Health Organisation) as a major factor holding back African economic and social development.
Global Warming Effects Add Urgency to the Race for Malaria Vaccine
Since the malaria mosquito doesn’t breed above 1,500-2,000 metres, large tracts of mountainous sub-Saharan Africa were considered non-malarial. But a decade ago, the WHO began warning that global warming would bring more upland tropical areas within the breeding range of disease-carrying insects, including the malaria mosquito.
Cases being reported from towns and villages in East Africa once thought to be malaria-free suggest that this could now be happening. Some of this increase could be influenced by other factors, such as population movements caused by political upheavals, or migrant workers returning from malarial zones, but the trend is there, and looks set to continue until an effective vaccine is available.
Great emphasis is being placed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and GSK on ensuring that distribution and implementation procedures are in place for the day when a vaccine, hopefully RTSS, will be ready, and available free.