Battling Malaria: Experts see major breakthrough
Malaria is one of the most dangerous diseases, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) every 45 seconds a child dies of malaria. The biggest risk group: sub-Saharan, African infants.
Malaria is caused by the plasmodium parasite which is spread through the bites of infected Anopheles mosquitoes. There are four types of human malaria: Plasmodium falciparum, Plasmodium vivax, Plasmodium malariae, Plasmodium ovale. The Plasmodium falciparum is the most deadly of all.
Although the mortality rates of malaria are still outrages, there is hope: in the World Malaria Report 2010 of the WHO there is a death rate of 781 000 reported in 2009; a decrease from the 985 000 deaths reported in 2000. The WHO attributes this success to increased malaria prevention and control measurements such as INT’s (insecticide treated nets), sprays and clothing.
When prevention failed, the best available treatment for malaria at this moment is the artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACT). The combination treatment against malaria can not only treat the disease but also reduce the rapid spread of drug resistance.
October 2011: The anti malaria vaccine RTS,S found its way to the press and presented some promising results, published online in the New England Journal of Medicine. The RTS,S vaccine cuts the risks of severe malaria with 40% and 50% of uncomplicated malaria. These results are seen in the intervention group with infants between 5 and 7 months. The RTS,S trial was conducted in two groups: infants from 6-12 weeks and children between the age of 5 and 7 months. Results in the younger group are still being analyzed.
The RTS,S vaccine is tested on more then 15 000 infants under the age of 18 months in Burkina Faso, Gabon, Kenya, Ghana, Tanzania, Malawi and Mozambique, and is one of the two current anti malaria vaccines tested around the world.
The RTS,S vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in cooperation with the Path Malaria Initiative of Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, is now in the third phase of the trial.
The other vaccine, now in the second phase of the trial, is called the MSP3 . The MSP3 is tested on safety on 45 children in Burkina Faso and showed also already high levels of protection of malaria.
Normally a vaccine that is cutting the risks by half would not pass the WHO norms, but the numbers affected by Malaria are so high that the WHO sees the vaccine as promising: a “remarkable progress” had been made, according to Robert Newman, director of the WHO’s Global Malaria Programme.
Although the RTS,S vaccine could decrease the high rates of malaria with 50%, there are also some concerns. Dr. Mary Hamel of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that there were side-effects like fever related seizures seen in the seven days following but they were rare and treatable. These side effects will be monitored the next years, although the GSK. Final deadline of the trail is set on the year 2014.
The RTS,S vaccine will first of all contribute to the already existing preventive measurements.
We would have wished that we could wipe it out, but I think this is going to contribute to the control of malaria rather than wiping it out.
Such a vaccine would not replace proven malaria control interventions such as insecticide-treated bed nets, but could be an important addition to those interventions.
Up till now it is not clear how much the vaccine is going to cost. Andrew Witty, CEO of GSK, says it is not the company’s intention to make profit out of it and says he is willing to sell the vaccine 5% over the production cost. According to GSK the profit will go into more research about malaria and its cure. GSK is actually negotiating with potential donor groups who are willing to pay the vaccine globally.