The announcement of a malaria vaccine for the first time not only inspires hope in the fight against one of the planet’s most dangerous diseases, but also underscores the need to attack the crisis on multiple fronts, said the US President’s Malaria Initiative this week. The chief says. He launched an ambitious five-year plan aimed at what he described as the “oldest pandemic ever”.
Malaria, a parasitic infection spread by mosquitoes, kills hundreds of thousands of people each year. Most victims are young children, and most malaria cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa.
While malaria is not endemic to the United States, US President Joe Biden’s administration considers anti-malarial efforts a priority, said Dr. Raj Punjabi, who was appointed PMI’s global malaria coordinator in February. PMI is a US government program dedicated to fighting disease.
“It’s the right thing to do,” he told VOA. “There are many people – more than 400,000 – who die from malaria each year. Most of them are children. In fact, one child dies every two minutes from the disease. And there are still more than 200 million cases. occur every year. This is the oldest epidemic.
“So this is the first reason: it’s the right thing to do. It’s the ethical thing to do. We have the equipment, the drugs, the tests. Now we have a vaccine that can help us save lives. The second reason is because other countries have It is in the interest of the United States of America to succeed.”
A new vaccine, announced this week by the World Health Organization, is “a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Using this vaccine on top of existing equipment to prevent malaria could save thousands of young lives each year.”
This four-dose vaccine developed for children under 2 years of age and tested in three African countries was found to prevent 30% of severe cases.
Those figures may sound depressing, but this vaccine is only one tool among many, explained Ashley Birkett, director of the Malaria Vaccine Initiative at PATH, a global organization that promotes health equity and that has participated in the vaccine’s 30-year development. took.
“Thirty percent seems like a modest number, but when you look at the magnitude of the problem and the fact that we have more than 260,000 children dying of malaria a year and a vaccine that can build on other devices and Another way to provide security, it has the potential to have a fairly significant impact,” Birkett said.
That, Punjabi said, is why the President’s Malaria Initiative this week unveiled an ambitious billion-dollar-a-year plan aimed at saving the next 4 million lives and preventing 1 billion infections over the next five years. have to stop.
“Therapeutic success is not enough,” Punjabi said. One strategy in the plan, he said, is to hire, train and equip local residents as community health workers who can bring tests and medicines to people’s homes. The second is to continue work on vaccine effectiveness and development.
So why did it take scientists 30 years to develop this one vaccine? VOA asked Punjabi.
“One reason this has been more challenging is because parasites are clearly, well, evil geniuses,” he said. “The malaria parasite has about 5,300 genes. The COVID-19 virus has only 10 genes.
“And malaria has a very complex life cycle; it goes between mosquitoes and humans. And so when you have a pathogen that has multiple stages within the bloodstream, it’s challenging to train the immune system. And So that’s one of the real reasons why it’s challenging to develop a vaccine for a parasite. And why it’s a remarkable achievement that it’s been accomplished. It’s taken decades to make.”