The news that will bring immense joy and relief to the medical fraternity, is the successful development of a malarial vaccine. Currently, malaria undoubtedly is the international community’s most pressing health problem. Its staggering disease burden, the associated mortality rates especially in third world and developing countries, made the development of a vaccine imperative. A successful malarial vaccine not only needs to confer long term protection but needs to be produced on a mass scale to have any sort of impact in lowering the disease burden.
Every year thousands of people succumb to malaria. The parasite is at its virulent best in large swathes of Africa where the death toll is highest. In 2011 an estimated 655000 persons died of malaria. 86% of the victims were children under 5 years of age, and 91% of malaria deaths occurred in the WHO African Region. Pregnant women or elderly who are already immuno-compromised and children below 5 years of age, are most susceptible to malarial infection. The infection, primarily caused by mosquito bite, can lead to anemia, premature birth and even infant death. In young children bouts of malaria, apart from the usual disease specific morbidity, can cause impairment of physical and mental development. Adults get bed ridden for weeks, their work life gets seriously hampered, all of which clearly establishes the major socio economic burden of the disease.
Need For A Vaccine
Time and again vaccines have proven to be the most cost effective and scientifically viable recourse to wipe out major life threatening pathogens from the face of the earth , be it small pox or Polio. Ditto will be the case over here. The concerned parasite is extremely adaptable and has survived for millions of years so simple therapeutic options will not suffice. Currently the battle against malaria is being waged on numerous fronts, be it antibiotic treatment or development of new drugs and insecticides or simple remedial measures like distribution of bed nets and promotion of indoor spraying. A vaccine will effectively bridge any lacuna left by these interventions. Moreover, because of excessive and random usafge of antibiotics, malaria routinely develops drug resistance, so in long term vaccination will be the only feasible option.
The Good News ……
After two decades of extensive trials, scientists have struck gold at last in their quest for a vaccine. The latest reports emerging from Africa, is the near completion of a successful clinical trial. The trial, funded by vaccine powerhouse Glaxxo Smithkline, involved more than 15,000 children and was conducted in the most malaria prone zones in Africa like Kenya, Somalia, Mozambique, Ghana, Malawi, and Mozambique. Initial results suggest the vaccine has been efficacious in boosting immunogenic response in young children against the disease. However, how long will this protection persist, can only be determined in the years to come, but going by Glaxxo’s track record in producing world quality vaccines , one cannot help but having one’s hopes high about this product. The company has pledged to launch this product at a fraction of the total cost probably by 2015, given it gets all the necessary clearance from WHO.
Every day nearly 2000 people die because of malaria, a disease that can be prevented without much hassle. So a successful vaccine, in conjunction with other intervention measures, can potentially save millions of lives, reduce the socio-economic burden and prove to be another boon to mankind.