COVID-19 vaccine, good news - Malaria vaccines should follow next

BY: Vicky Wireko

Good news, as the world works progressively towards COVID-19 vaccines and their administration. Currently, the global figures, one year since the outbreak of the disease, is reportedly a little over 110 million cases of which close to 62 million have recovered and about 2.44 million have died. 

In Ghana, our total confirmed case is over 75,000, nearly 67,000 recovered and over 500 deaths.

Interestingly, another deadly disease that has traumatised some people over decades with young children very much at risk is malaria.
Well-acclaimed figures put the yearly infection rate for the disease at 290 million. Globally, it is estimated that 3.3 billion people living in 106 countries are at risk of malaria.

COVID-19 vaccines

Within 24 months of the outbreak of COVID-19, scientists the world over have worked tirelessly; the result of which various vaccines have been rolled out while a few others are fast coming up with clinical trials ongoing.

The good news is that vaccines such as Moderna, Pfizer BiONTech, Oxford AstraZeneca are fast being administered.

More vaccines continue to pour in CNN reported a few days ago that Johnson and Johnson’s single dose vaccine is to be administered in South Africa in the coming days.

Novavax says its scientists are testing a new version of its COVID-19 vaccine that specifically targets the coronavirus variant first identified in South Africa earlier this year.

And yet more exhilarating news is the one coming from Israel. It is reported that one of their medical professors has invented an inhaler that is said to cure COVID-19 in just five days.

The inhaler, we are told, has an efficacy of 96 per cent with 29 of the 30 patients who tried it at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Centre recovering rapidly from the virus and leaving hospital between three to five days even with more serious cases.

Only one inhalation was enough to fish out the virus.

Malaria vaccines

The success of all the COVID-19 vaccines has seen some gradual decrease in reported cases in countries that have started administering.

So, how about malaria vaccines? Can the rapid interest in life-saving COVID-19 vaccines spur world scientists on to get us malaria vaccines in record time?

Malaria, one of the world’s deadliest diseases, has been around for too long. It is said to be caused by a parasite which spreads to humans through bites of infected mosquitoes.

The disease which is prevalent in tropical countries is said to account for about 70 per cent of the global malaria burden.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that about 94 per cent of all malaria deaths occur in Africa, most commonly in children under five years. Ghana is said to be among the 15 highest burden malaria countries in the world.

According to information available from the Ghana Health Service and made public to the Ghana News Agency in April 2020, the country recorded a total of 1,001,070 malaria cases out of 2,346,677 suspected cases tested between the months of January and March 2020.

Out of the 58,775 admitted cases of malaria during the period, 42 per cent were said to be children less than five years.

Generally, it is estimated that malaria accounts for 2,000 deaths annually. This compares to our COVID-19 deaths of over 500 within a period of one year since the disease’s outbreak in the country.

Admittedly, a lot of malaria intervention put in place by the Ghana Health Service supported by some aid agencies has helped in reducing malaria-related admissions and deaths at all ages.

But what one expects to be fast progressed are vaccines that would drastically reduce, if not halt malaria infections.

Pilot programme

Thankfully, three African countries, Ghana, Kenya and Malawi are said to be beneficiaries of the world’s first malaria vaccine.

The $50 million funded malaria vaccine which is at the piloting stage was rolled out in 2019.

The three year global agencies funded pilot programme with support from WHO is reportedly targeted at children less than five years.

It is hoped that by the end of the three years, 360,000 children would have been vaccinated, and depending on its success, the vaccine would be rolled out countrywide.

So, yes, a three year pilot programme for malaria vaccine in just three of the world’s highest burdened malaria countries in the world is something.

But, a big question remains. Compared to COVID-19 and how the world has fast reacted to finding vaccines, malaria vaccine woefully comes nowhere near. Yet, statistics point to a disease most deadly.

The world’s attention should be drawn to vaccines for malaria on the back of the rapid results COVID-19 vaccines have unveiled within just 12 months.

The world has delightfully been somewhat relieved. It points to a better year from coronavirus.

The next World Malaria Day should focus attention on accelerated malaria vaccines. That is my humble plea.

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