Health

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Karel Prinsloo/AP
A mother prepares to take her son,
stricken with malaria, to a clinic in
Lankien, Southern Sudan.

Malaria Vaccine to Begin Large-Scale Trial in Africa

November 11, 2008 12:31 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Trials for the first malaria vaccine will involve about 16,000 children in Africa, in what could be “the largest such trial ever.”

Drugmaker, Charities and Clinics Develop Vaccine

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“This is probably going to be one of the largest studies in infants and in children in Africa,” said Joe Cohen, a vaccine researcher for British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline PLC, to USA Today.

The vaccine is being developed jointly by GlaxoSmithKline, the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative—a charity funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—and African clinics and research centers. The trial should be underway by as early as next month and will take place in Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania. The Malaria Vaccine Initiative has spent about $107 million on the project so far, while GlaxoSmithKline has spent about $300 million.

Despite researchers’ hopes, the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine will not be known for several years. Preliminary trials indicate that the vaccine is about 30 percent effective against mild malaria cases and about 50 percent effective against severe cases.

But any progress in fighting malaria, which kills about 1 million people every year, will be welcome in areas where people die daily from the disease, said Dr. Eusebio Macete of the Manhica Research Centre in Mozambique, to USA Today.

“It’s a huge, huge burden, this disease,” Macete said. “Whatever percentage we can get will be useful in reducing the impact of the disease.”

Background: Strides in malaria research

In the past year, researchers have continued to advance scientific knowledge of the disease and its treatments. Over the summer, two separate teams of researchers targeted malaria at its source by genetically modifying mosquitoes and the disease-causing parasites they carry. One team of researchers is developing male mosquitoes that are born sterile, as well as a variety that will be resistant to malaria-causing parasites. But some scientists are skeptical about their efforts.

In August, new research suggested that mosquitoes are repelled by the smell of the insect repellant DEET, which has been found to work better than other methods of deterring mosquitoes. Previously, scientists believed that the chemical blocked mosquitoes’ sense of smell, thus ensuring that they were not drawn to people using it.

A new class of malaria medicines called Artenisinin Combination Therapies (ACTs) are scarce in rural Uganda due to their high cost, especially outside of government health facilities, according to a new report. ACTs, recommended by the World Health Organization and the Ugandan government, often cost up to 60 times the price of older and less effective drugs such as chloroquine.

Related Topics: Global efforts to fight malaria

The eradication of malaria continues to be a hot global issue. The humanitarian agency World Vision on Monday urged President-elect Barack Obama and the new Congress to provide the resources needed to fight malaria. “Given the deadly link between AIDS and malaria, World Vision also urges the new administration to continue building on the President’s Malaria Initiative and fulfill the commitment to provide at least $1 billion a year for malaria over the next five years. Providing these resources will help ensure we reach the goal set by President-elect Obama to ‘end all deaths from malaria by 2015.’”

In September, prominent world leaders met at the 2008 Millennium Development Goals Malaria Summit and pledged $3 billion to the Global Malaria Action Plan, which is aimed at eradicating the disease by 2015. Those in attendance included UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and U2 singer Bono. “With about one million people dying from malaria every year, today’s lunch is a real and vital turning point,” Brown was. “It brings together … government, the private sector and NGOs—to ensure we all rise to the challenge of eradicating malaria deaths by 2015.”

Reference: Malaria

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