Recently, on October 6, the World Health Organization has certified the first-ever vaccine for Malaria called RTS, S. This disease has adversely taken the entire Sub – Saharan Africa into its ambit, especially the children. Therefore, this vaccine is no less than a blessing for them.
What is Malaria?
Before we know about the cure, it is crucial for us to see the ailment to prevent which this vaccine has been developed.
- Malaria is a life-threatening mosquito-borne blood disease caused by plasmodium parasites. It is predominantly found in the tropical and subtropical areas of Africa, South America, and Asia.
- The parasites spread through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. After entering the human body, parasites initially multiply within the liver cells and then attack the Red Blood Cells (RBCs), resulting in their rupture.
- There are five parasite species that cause Malaria in humans, and 2 of these species –Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax–pose the greatest threat.
- Symptoms of Malaria include fever and flu-like illness, including shaking, chills, headache, muscle aches, and tiredness.
- Though it is a preventable and curable disease, the research has been carried out for a long time, which has finally led us to reap its fruit in the form of a vaccine.
Why is it so significant?
In the year 2019, about 229 million people were suffering from Malaria as per an estimate by World Health Organization, out of which around 409000 could never recover from this disease. It is even more painful to know that out of these deaths, 67% consisted of children below the age of 5, making them most vulnerable to Malaria. If we look at the data, a staggering 94% of the total number of cases and deaths were caused in the African region itself. In contrast, the rest of the cases belonged to South East Asia, Eastern Mediterranean, Western Pacific, and the Americas.
Effective Malaria would be an important tool to combat the enormous socio-economic burden caused by this disease. Vaccines not only provide a shield to the individual but will also promote public health. There is no doubt in the fact that the vaccines against infectious diseases have greatly contributed to worldwide public health apart from the provision of clean drinking water and sanitation.
RTS, S/AS01 (Mosquirix) is a recombinant protein-based vaccine that acts against P. falciparum, which is supposed to be the deadliest malaria parasite globally and most prevalent in Africa. However, it has not shown any effective protection against the other variant P. Vivax which is found in the other region of the world.
Clinical Trial of RTS, S
This vaccine has been developed by Glaxo Smith Kline (GSK), a major pharmaceutical company. The pilot projects were conducted in Sub – Saharan Africa, particularly in Malawi, Ghana, and Kenya, where the vaccine prevented around 4 out of 10 cases (39%) when four doses were administered to the children in the age group 5- 17 months. While in cases of severe Malaria, the vaccine was able to prevent 29% of the cases. It also reduced the need for blood transfusion in cases of Malaria and severe anemia (which is a side effect of Malaria) up to 29%.
Impact on India
India is the largest manufacturing hub for pharmaceutical and life-saving drugs. Even before the Covid 19 pandemic, India has been facing the wrath of Malaria for quite a long time and is endemic in many states in the country, and multiple plasmodium variants are found here, including the P. falciparum.
Therefore, there has been talk going on between the Glaxo Smith Kline and Bharat Biotech (which is known for producing the indigenous anti – covid vaccine called Covaxin in India) for manufacturing and technology transfer of the vaccine. Hopefully, with the production of this vaccine, many lives can be saved and eradicate this menace, and the world can be a better place to live in.