NHK World Editor-in-Chief Taro Mitamura directly witnessed the tragic victims of malaria. A former African correspondent shares his experience and seeks his views on new vaccines from medical professionals.
In Uganda in 2008, a mother was sitting beside a hospital bed and wiping her baby’s sweat. She walked for a few days to get to the facility.
She wasn’t sure her child had malaria, but she said she couldn’t seize the opportunity. She had already lost another child to the disease.
Staff said it was not uncommon for parents to travel such long distances, often on foot, as most villages did not have medical facilities to deal with malaria.
The hospital was at the forefront of the fight against illness, which kills nearly 400,000 people annually in Africa. More than half of them are children.
After 10 years, new vaccines have the potential to reduce their numbers.
History of production
Dr. Tedros Adhanom, Director of the World Health Organization, welcomed it as a historic moment. “The long-awaited children’s malaria vaccine is a breakthrough in science, child health and malaria control,” he said when he announced that his organization recommended its widespread use.
With the development of the vaccine by British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, WHO has coordinated its pilot program since 2019, delivering 2.3 million doses to more than 800,000 children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.
The results suggest that it can reduce severe cases of illness by about 30 percent.
Scientists have been working on vaccines since the 1980s, but there was a problem with the mechanism of the disease.
Malaria is caused by parasites that infect humans by mosquitoes. Professor Toshihiro Mita, Dean of the Department of Tropical Medicine and Parasitology, Juntendo University School of Medicine, said that parasites are stumbling because they can deform in the human body and change antigens, which are molecules that stimulate the immune response. rice field.
Even if the vaccine can recognize a set of antigens, the parasite can generate new constituents.
That is why WHO clearly states that it should be used with current control measures rather than replacing the vaccine, Mita said. Pesticide-treated bed nets and other measures to prevent bed nets are still needed, as are early and effective treatments. “We are still in the midst of a fight against malaria, and the vaccine only gives us additional weapons to fight malaria,” he explains.
There is also the question of whether the vaccine will reach the people who need it most. Many parts of Africa lack the necessary transportation and medical infrastructure. This problem is complicated by the fact that the vaccine needs to be given four times.
A recent study led by Mita raised another concern. Researchers have found that artemisinin-resistant malaria is one of the most effective drugs to treat the disease and is spreading rapidly in East Africa. He says there is a risk that current treatments will be completely ineffective.
To address the threat, he and other researchers are monitoring genetic alterations in Plasmodium. They are trying to develop diagnostic methods for early treatment and infection control.
More than a health problem
Mita describes malaria as the biggest public health crisis facing Africa. He also says that it keeps children away from school and exacerbates poverty by causing adults to lose their jobs. And if the last two years have taught us something, he says there is a way for problems of that scale to spread around the world.
“With the coronavirus pandemic, people around the world have seen how the virus spreads the risk of infection across national borders. Malaria is also a problem that must be addressed globally.”
Scientists do not yet have a clear view of how climate change is affecting the disease, but it could expand mosquito habitat to previously unaffected areas. There is a concern that there is. The United Nations may also allow rising temperatures, rainfall and humidity to accelerate the mosquito growth cycle, allowing mosquitoes to grow at higher altitudes and reach villages not previously in the malaria zone. Is warned.
The United Nations has included in its Sustainable Development Goals to end the malaria epidemic by 2030. And if that can happen, the disease must be fought as a global issue, not a regional one.
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