I came across the most exciting piece of news recently while scrolling through my newsfeed on social media. It was about a new vaccine that can help prevent Malaria. Can you imagine that?
Simply put, you and your loved ones may no longer have to contend with Malaria, once you take the vaccine. This is incredible news with far-reaching implications for the quality of life we can have in Nigeria and across the world.
Do you know how many people malaria kills every year? The death toll is about 400,000 people, most of these are children in Africa. Every single day, over 1, 000 people die from ‘ordinary malaria’.
Malaria is so endemic that it is dismissed by the very people who suffer its impact the most, it really is one of the least feared diseases in Nigeria yet the number of people it kills is staggering.
We have become complacent with the disease, and it is taking full advantage.
This brings a story to mind, possibly apocryphal, of a fellow Nigerian who was hospitalized in Germany. He had felt sick, dialed the emergency line and was rushed off to the hospital. He became unconscious on the way to the hospital but came back soon after he got some treatment in the hospital.
When he regained consciousness, he noticed all the big machines around him and some tubes sticking from him. The beeping sounds from the machine and the general unfamiliarity disoriented him quite a bit. He did actually feel better though so asked the doctor what the diagnosis was.
He was fully prepared to hear that he had a chronic disease. His imagination had run riot so when the doctor told him he had malaria, he was astounded. He laughed and quizzed the doctor “Just Malaria?”
“Just Malaria?” indeed.
Governments, the biggest pharmaceutical companies and many scientists around the world have been on the search for better medicines to treat the disease and even for better, safer pesticides to eliminate mosquitoes.
The Holy Grail was always elusive though. An effective vaccine has been the goal of a search that decisively addresses this disease that has ravaged humanity for over a hundred years. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has a standard of 75% efficacy for a vaccine. This means that only vaccines that can prevent 75 out of 100 people who take it from getting severely ill from a disease can be endorsed.
We had one vaccine before now called the Mosquirix vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline. Tested in Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi, it was only partially effective. It achieved a 39% efficacy in all malaria cases and only 29% among small children in Africa over four years.
This new Malaria vaccine beats this standard, achieving an efficacy rate of up to 77% in a 12-month trial with 450 children in Burkina Faso by scientists at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute. The World Health Organization is now testing it in Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi.
Yes, this may mark the beginning of an era, a Malaria free one. A toast to humanity and a potentially Malaria-free world.
By Kesta Njoku