The development and approval of the world’s first malaria vaccine. Even if you don’t know anything, even if you are not in tune with the trends of the world, you would have heard about this latest development. Since the news filtered in, I have been so excited. I don’t know if this is because of my background in malaria research or because this development signals that there might be hope after all.
Back then, in the school of pharmacy, I read in different textbooks, and I heard the same assertion a lot of times, that Africa is still battling with many diseases of public health significance because they were largely known in western circles as “the diseases of Africa.” As entitled as that statement may be, I subconsciously accepted it. “Oh, no one wants to develop a malaria vaccine because, it was a disease we largely battled with in Africa.” They were so quick to develop vaccines for the covid-19 virus, so what was stopping them? They even left us to battle with the Ebola virus rising from the congo basin.
Looking back now, I can see how lazy that assumption was, and why would I even think of such? If Africans were going to be abandoned to face our problems squarely, why was the Bill and Melinda gates foundation trying so hard with their “Roll back malaria” Initiatives? Why would this same foundation ensure we all got vaccinated from diseases such as poliomyelitis, Tuberculosis, diphtheria, hepatitis, and other diseases that greatly affect Africa's childhood development. Despite the obvious neglect from our elected governments.
I have always had conflicting opinions when addressing the scourge of diseases of public health significance in Africa. It has become clearer now that I was only trying to rationalize and shift blames lazily. Our African governments have largely failed to fund the healthcare sector and consistently adopt policies that would improve healthcare access, especially to folks in the rural areas, which forms the bulk of the population in most African countries. However, this is a story for another day.
So back to the existing conversation; Imagine my shock when I learned that the new malaria vaccine has been in the works since 1987. I erroneously thought the West abandoned Africa to its fate, but alas! It has been working on a malaria vaccine for more than thirty (30) years. To further appreciate this context, I will use the next few lines to highlight the scary statistics malaria throws up in Africa. As far as maternal and childhood mortality rates are concerned.
According to the apex world health organization, about half of the world’s population are at risk of malaria. However, most of these cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Children under the age of 5 and pregnant women are at the most risk of developing fatal complications from malaria. Last year, about 229 million malaria cases were recorded, with the African region carrying most of these infections. The African region carries 67% of the global malaria burden. See why the continent fits so perfectly into this discourse?
I hope you can now see why this vaccine is such a huge win? Bringing the statistics closer, in Nigeria, over 98% of the population is at risk of contracting malaria. So, with all your posh bungalows and duplexes, ill-fitted air conditioners, and every other thing, you are still at risk of malaria. What a big step this vaccine is, really. Together with all the arthemeter combinations, another effective weapon has been added to stem the growing tide of Malaria.
Now, “Drum roll,” wait for this next line. The vaccine named “Mosquirix” is not only adept at preventing malaria but has also been developed for any parasitic disease. Developed by the big pharma company GlaxoSmithKline, the vaccine is designed to help activate a child’s immune system to prevent the destructive actions of Plasmodium Falciparum, the deadliest of all the five malaria-causing pathogens. This vaccine is really a huge step at prevention; away from all the attempts at combining medications to treat the disease, preventing it from happening altogether is a big move. “Something Huge”
With this vaccine, the african child has an increased chance of making it to adultood.
Although not perfect, the vaccine has been shown to reduce the incidences of a new infection. According to the New York Times, it is also more effective when combined with antimalarials, specifically in preventing severe disease hospitalization. In children, successive bouts of contracting malaria have been known to lead to a weakened immune system, leaving them as “sitting ducks” for any random infection, but this is about to end now. Mosquirix is given in three doses to children between the age of 5 and 17 months. Then a fourth dose comes about 18 months later. It is said to have a big impact in reducing inequities in access to malaria treatments.
Poor public sanitation facilities, deficit infrastructure have created a vast breeding ground for P.falciparum in most African countries. It is a common sight to see random puddles of water on your streets, fully packed gutters, etc. A lack of steady structures to promptly attend to severe cases is lacking, but in all, this is a big win for the African continent. If these scenarios do not change anytime soon, we are certain that the rate children die needlessly from malaria would reduce. At least, going by the figures thrown up by vaccine trials carried out in Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi.
The Bill and Melinda gates foundation donated massively towards the research. Papa Bill, thank you for all your efforts; we do not take them for granted. To the thinking scientists, humanity will always be grateful. We in Africa do not know when our lot would change; we do not know when we would get leaders to invest in the vast and dynamic human resources we possess, but we are grateful.
Logistics has always been a major issue, but the governments of African countries can at least do that and ensure these vaccines get to the areas where they are needed. We hope they are not abandoned in warehouses and left to rot away. Finally, there is a need for the vaccine to be made as cost-effective as possible so that children in the low-cost hinterlands can at least get a shot at life. For this malaria vaccine, Africa says a big thank you. With the latest advancements in sickle cell research and the latest HIV vaccine, it is more than certain that a stronger, healthier world will gradually emerge.