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By Andrew Follett
One medical researcher believes a soon-to-be-developed malaria vaccine will “save hundreds of thousands of lives” every year if used with improved prevention and treatment methods in poor countries.
“This is a major milestone, as it is the next step on the long road toward having a malaria vaccine in wide use. In a large field trial in Africa, this first generation vaccine prevented malaria to different degrees in different settings and in different age groups,” Dr. Christopher Plowe, an expert in malaria research at the University of Maryland, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The World Health Organization (WHO) announced a vaccine to prevent malaria that could be released as soon as next year. The vaccine is currently undergoing clinical testing and, so far, has prevented 4-in-10 children from contracting malaria, according to BBC News. WHO needs to run more tests before they can fully understand the vaccine’s effectiveness at stopping malaria.
“So the WHO needs to understand better how well it works in ‘real world’ conditions before recommending it widely,” Plowe said.
“This vaccine works best when used in combination with good prevention and treatment—we have to apply all the tools together,” Plowe said. “If we do that, it will save hundreds of thousands of lives a year.”
The malaria vaccine is just in its first generation and needs to be administered four times over 21 months, which is difficult for health care systems in poor countries that struggle with tracking patients and keeping hospitals clean and running. Most malaria cases occur in such countries.
“Lots of vaccines that we give to babies and children require multiple doses, and like those routine childhood vaccines, this one can be delivered where health systems are relatively strong,” Plowe said. “But we need to keep working on even better, next generation vaccines that require fewer doses, because we see the most malaria in remote areas where health care systems are weak or non-existent.”
Mosquitoes transmit parasites carrying malaria through biting people. The disease can also spread as mosquitoes feed on people already infected with malaria, then go on to bite other individuals.
“Malaria has killed more people throughout human history than any other single cause, including other diseases, wars and famine,” Plowe said. “Current efforts to eradicate malaria worldwide have made amazing progress, and where malaria is truly eliminated, it usually doesn’t come back. But what really scares me is knowing that when we stop short of total elimination, malaria always comes roaring back, often even worse than before—so we need to finish the job.”
Over 1 million people die from malaria each year, most of whom are children under the age of five, according to the WHO. An estimated 300 to 600 million people suffer from malaria each year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. The disease is virtually nonexistent in the U.S., largely due to the widespread spraying of the pesticide DDT.