Mosquitoes cause more human suffering than any other organism—over one million people across 109 countries world-wide die from mosquito-borne diseases every year. UNICEF estimates that one child dies of malaria every minute.
Despite these alarming statistics, for those who are from Africa and have experienced the virus, it’s not as concerning. Wheaton College student, Kailyn Tanner, who grew up in Tanzania states that “Malaria is not as big of an issue as Americans think.”
“Everyone in my family has had it at least once, and we’re still living.” Kailyn describes having the virus as feeling “like an overdone flu. Head ache, stomach ache, and it goes in waves. Sometimes you feel clammy, and then later you don’t feel that bad. But later, it will come back and be awful.”
The reason Kailyn’s family may not have had as serious of a situation was because they were able to quickly recognize the symptoms and treat it. Kailyn’s parents have a medicinal herb garden that they use to both repel the bugs and to treat the virus. As long as all of the medication is consumed, and the whole treatment is finished one is fine, says Kailyn. “There does need to be more education of how the treatments work, and how malaria victims need to continue the medicine through the whole process.”
Our medicinal plants are not an end all solution, admits Kailyn. “Another aspect of malaria that I don’t much about it is that the pill continues to change. It’s just a virus. When we overdose on malaria medication, it lets people become immune to it. Every five years, we have to change it.”
The need to change the vaccine has been recognized by Queensland’s Griffith University. A new malaria vaccine was discovered this past year by researchers, which protects against multiple strains of the illness. Thus far, their tests on mice have proven safe, but the real proof will be how humans respond to the vaccine.
For the first trial stage, Dr Stanisic is seeking six people who will need to meet exacting criteria. The second stage will involve about 30 participants, before a large study is launched in a country badly affected by malaria.
Dr Stanisic says participants can help eliminate a devastating disease. If results of the study on healthy Australian volunteers are successful, the vaccine will progress onto studies in areas where malaria is present. Scientists are very encouraged by the results so far and optimistic that the vaccine approach will aid the fight against this debilitating illness that affects so many people around the world.
If the vaccine is successful, the question remains of how it will be distributed. For families like the Tanners, that have material wealth, there will be less of a problem accessing the medicine. But for the over one million children currently suffering from the disease, there remains a large problem. One organization that has stepped up to propose a solution to this challenge is the GAVI alliance, a public-private partnership established in 2000 that raises money for the millions of children who die each year from vaccines preventable diseases.
If the Malaria tests from Griffith University turn out to be successful, GAVI may partner with them to distribute the immunizations. The GAVI Board noted that based on the current assessment; there would be a reasonable case for GAVI to support the vaccine. The Board will consider this if and when the vaccine is licensed, WHO prequalified and recommended for use by the joint meeting of the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) and the Malaria Program Advisory Committee (expected in 2015), taking into account updated projections of impact, cost and country demand.
GAVI’s strategy requires economically stronger countries to co-finance a higher share of vaccine costs, easing their transition to graduation from GAVI support and preparing them for taking on the full cost of vaccines.
“If all the countries in the world were to introduce the vaccines required and available, the number of children who were spared from illness would reach 9 out of 10,” reports GAVI. Thus, vaccines used in the developing world will have the greatest opportunity to prevent infection, reduce morbidity and mortality. Ultimately, the success of this new Malaria Vaccine will have a major positive impact for these peoples and countries.