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NTHATISI MOLEFE-NYEMBE | Vaccines bring some hope in fight against malaria

Approximately 40% of the world’s population still live with malaria.
Approximately 40% of the world’s population still live with malaria.
Image: REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo

The parasite causing malaria,Plasmodium spp, was discovered in 1880 by Sir Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran.

Soon after its discovery came the vector responsible for the transmission of the parasite, when Sir Ronald Ross managed to identify the role of mosquitoes in the transmission of malaria,particularly avian malaria.

Subsequently, an Italian group of scientists described human malaria between 1898 and 1900. Recent studies have demonstrated the possibility of malaria being one of the world’s oldest diseases based on the malaria antigen detected in Egyptian remains dating from 3200-1304 BC.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information in the US, 150-million to 300-million lives have been lost to malaria in the 20th century. To date, malaria’s chief sufferers are the poor of Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, the Amazon basin, and other tropical regions.

Approximately 40% of the world’s population still live with malaria.

The first malaria vaccine was only approved by the World HealthOrganisation (WHO) in October2021. The search for a vaccine has been under development since the 1960s as a means to mitigate the negative impact of malaria on the health and economic status of more than 36 African countries affected by the disease.

However, the efforts have yielded no tangible vaccine. Three types of vaccine candidates have been intensively investigated. Two were developed for the prevention of malaria and are undergoing Phase III clinical trials.

African countries with heavy annual burdens of malaria such as Ghana, Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Kenya and Malawi have started a vaccine roll-out. Ghana’s Food and Drug Authority has assessed the progress of the vaccine trial and reached a decision to approve it for use in children aged five-36 months who are at a greater risk of infection.

Malaria in SA dates back to 1837 and 1838, with epidemics recorded in Durban (1905), where 44 people died. This resulted from the flooding of the Orange River, and a localised outbreak presumed to havebeen initiated by a group of Indians returning from East Africa.

This signals the possibility of outbreaks and/or epidemic in SA, if relevant preventive measures are not taken into account. Furthermore, global warming has the potential to worsen the current malaria conditions in the country. Anopheles mosquitoes develop optimally between 17°C and 35°C.

Higher temperatures may also result in the change of the malaria season in the country because summer season temperatures will be too high for survival of mosquitoes, while winter could end up warm enough to cater for the breeding and development of the Anopheles mosquito.

The successful development of the two vaccines is the greatest breakthrough in the malaria field after a considerable number of attempts without any results. But this does not suggest that traditional methods should be disregarded. Case management, epidemiology, distribution, vector control, prophylaxis or preventive treatment and surveillance of the disease should continue.

■ Dr Molefe-Nyembe is a lecturer in the department of zoology and entomology at the University of the Free State

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