BALTIMORE, Maryland — In the western world, mosquitoes constitute nothing more than an inconvenience. Around the globe, however, mosquitoes are far more than a minor nuisance; they represent malaria, which for many means death. Concentrated predominately in South Asia and Africa, it is the poorest countries that find themselves saddled with this devastating disease. With the World Health Organization (WHO) estimating that 3.3 billion people are at risk of contracting the disease, scientists have just this week unveiled a vaccine that has proven 100% effective against the killer disease.
This year alone, researchers at Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute (JHMR) estimate that somewhere between 300 and 500 million individuals will contract malaria; one million of whom will die. Malaria itself is a complex disease that takes on many forms. Moreover, once an individual is infected, the transmission rate from person to person far outnumbers that of HIV or tuberculosis. The conjunction of these factors has made the battle against the disease very difficult.
In impoverished areas, even the most rudimentary health and public safety resources represent the difference between life and death. Roughly 10 percent of all hospital admissions in Africa are due to malarial complications, the JHMR reports. Moreover, where in a region where many live on less than two dollars a day, the JHMR found, “A very-low-income African family, whose yearly income is $68, spends $19 for malaria treatment each year.” To make matters worse, the prevalence of the disease peaks at harvest time and typically lasts for five to six months of the year.
With the advances in medical research, malarial infections may soon become entirely preventable. In a series of tests conducted on three-dozen military personnel, the new malaria vaccine has proven 100% effective. Developed from a weakened form of the disease, researchers are confident that they have made a significant advance in medical science. While the news is exciting, the malaria vaccine is still in preliminary stages of its development and not yet ready for wider use.
Despite these current limitations, with 40 percent of the global population at risk of contracting malaria, advances in technology are a welcome prospect.
– Thomas van der List