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The Next Evolution: Malaria Vaccine for African Children

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Malaria infected mosquitoes continue to disperse the life-threatening disease throughout Africa.

This continent experiences 94% of total cases and deaths. This is disproportionately high compared to the rest of the world. It’s gut-wrenching to think the majority of cases are in children under five years of age.

Recently, a milestone was achieved in medicine. The new malaria vaccine (RTS,S) gained approval and a historical go-ahead rollout to protect African children.

RTS,S was proven effective over six years ago, and its new implementation brings hope in lowering the infection (and consequently the mortality rate) in children.

Preventive measures such as anti-malaria medications to kill malaria parasites, insecticide-treated mosquito nets to prevent mosquito bites, and insecticides to kill mosquitoes have all helped in reducing malaria.

However, the majority in Africa cannot afford these preventive measures. As a result, people risk never knowing when an infected mosquito will strike, which consequently either leads to weeks of treatment or absence from school.

Therefore, the idea of implementing the RTS,S vaccine is imperative to the overall well-being of Africa because generations of Africans have slogged through the repercussions of Malaria and its effect on society, economics, and tourism.

At present, the biggest question in Africa is: will the implementation and rollout of the vaccine come to fruition?

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The Challenges of Serving Africa

Unfortunately, most African countries are developing countries; that means a lower vaccine incentive than in more developed countries with robust healthcare systems where pharmaceutical giants can pad their pocketbooks.

Proof? The global COVID-19 pandemic.

The COVID-19 vaccination rollout has been pathetic in African countries. Some of this blame can be placed on international distribution. With shipping routes experiencing massive backlogs, it’s harder to move medical equipment around the world.

Other blame can be levied against the hoarding of vaccines by richer countries; also political infrastructure and corruption in some African countries.

Africa is the world’s second-fastest-growing region, yet 100 million more residents are impoverished now compared to the 1990s.

That disparity leaves a lot of questions on the table as to where the money is going, and which palms need to be greased to smooth out a pathway for this new malaria vaccine.

Why it Matters

RTS,S has been in comprehensive testing by the World Health Organization (WHO) through programs in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi.

This indicates some infrastructure and distribution lanes are already in place to begin outreach programs around the continent.

The results of these programs showed the 2.3 million doses led to a 30% reduction in severe cases of Malaria. It reached more than two-thirds of children who don’t have a bed netting, and the vaccine was cost-effective.

This RTS,S vaccine is not going to replace all the other malaria controlling measures. It will be used alongside them and offers an entirely new opportunity with the potential to transform the well-being and lives of many African children.

Although there are hundreds of Malaria variants, the RTS,S vaccine specifically targets the most deadly and most common in Africa: Plasmodium Falciparum.

Due to the mosquito’s complicated life cycle across two species (humans and mosquitoes) the vaccine is only 40% effective against the sporozoite form of the underlying parasite; this could be the difference between thousands of life and death decisions.

Malaria is a huge problem in Africa and the overwhelming hope of Africans is for this vaccine to go into major production.

Any relief from this disease is a warm welcome.

 

Written by: Emmanuel J. Osemota

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