Half of the people on Earth today are at risk of contracting the mosquito-borne disease malaria. And close to one million people, mainly children in Africa, die of the disease each year, according to the World Health Organization. But there is hope.
Joel Breman: There are some exciting new breakthroughs, and the first is that we now have some new drugs that are very effective against the most severe form of malaria.
Malaria expert Joel Breman is a senior scientific advisor at the U.S. National Institutes of Health. He said that it might be possible, with a combination of new drugs and other measures, to eliminate malaria worldwide by 2050.
The new class of drugs based on Artemisinin, a compound, is now combined with a whole raft of other drugs. And this type of therapy is very, very effective.
Breman added that bed nets, treated with insecticide, offer personal protection against the malaria-carrying mosquito.
And an exciting new development is that we now have textile chemistry allowing the insecticide to be woven into the threads and they last up to five years.
It will take more than just science, said Breman, to eliminate malaria.
There’s also now interest in funding and tremendous amounts of support have come in through a number of coalitions, and advocacy and training of many of the people who both deliver the services and also research teams, which are constantly looking for new ways to counter this wily disease.
Joel Breman talked about the widespread impact of malaria.
One hundred and nine countries, which contain half the world’s population are endemic for this devastating disease. It’s a parasite that infects the red blood cells.
Breman explained why children and pregnant women are at greater risk of malaria.
Children are fragile. They have not yet developed immunity from exposure to malaria. In the tropics where this disease occurs, they may be in a fragile situation in terms of nutrition, in terms of health services availability. The immunes systems of pregnant women are altered, actually suppressed, particularly during their first and second pregnancy.
Scientists are actively researching a vaccine for malaria, said Breman:
This is a very exciting area, and there have been some breakthroughs over the past decade. The vaccine that attacks the infectious form that is inoculated by the mosquito into humans is one that recently has shown to be up to sixty percent protective when given to young children in several African countries. And that is now going into what we call phase 3 trials, and that’s widespread trials.
Epidemiologist Joel Breman specializes in the effects, prevention, and treatment of malaria. Dr. Breman is senior scientific advisor at the Fogarty International Center, U.S. National Institutes of Health. He has trained, mentored, and collaborated with scientists and public health workers in over 20 countries in Africa in developing national malaria control policies, programs, and guidelines.