World Malaria Day: Nearly 2,500 Kids Become Victims Every Day!

Is malaria invincible? The only vaccine candidate being tested is less than 40 percent effective in clinical trials.

Updated
Health News
4 min read
Why is there still no effective malaria vaccine after decades of research and several development efforts? (Photo: <b>The Quint</b>)

Is malaria invincible? The only vaccine candidate being tested is less than 40 percent effective in clinical trials. This article is being republished on the occasion of World Malaria Day.

World Malaria Day: Nearly 2,500 Kids Become Victims Every Day!

You know what the number 1 public health enemy across the world is?

It’s not AIDS or tuberculosis – but malaria.

95% of India’s population resides in malaria-endemic areas. What’s worse, more than 50,000 Indians and over 6 lakh people globally die not because of something intuitively monstrous – like wild crocodiles that lurk in dense African forests – but from mosquito bites that spread malaria.

Yet even after more than 30 years of research and development, there is only one vaccine candidate in the pipeline. The vaccine – known as RTS, a GlaxoSmithKline product – is no panacea. In clinical trials, it was less than 40% effective even after four shots!

So why is it that there is still no perfect defence against a preventable disease we know everything about?

Deadly Mutant Strains Have Entered India

Malaria is a public health problem in several parts of the country. Ninety-five percent of India’s population resides in malaria-endemic areas (Photo: iStock)
Malaria is a public health problem in several parts of the country. Ninety-five percent of India’s population resides in malaria-endemic areas (Photo: iStock)

Anti-malarial drugs are losing their teeth against malaria in India, Myanmar, Cambodia. Scientists at the National Institute of Malaria Research (NIMR) traced a deadly mutation in the parasite.

In some patients, we have to try different things like increasing the dose, but we are slowly losing the drug. In the last decades all frontline anti-malarial drugs, like chloroquine, sulfadoxine etc. became obsolete because of mutation. It will be catastrophic if artemisinin becomes totally useless too. 
Dr Bajan, Intensive Care Unit Specialist

History tells us what will happen then.

There are no new anti-malaria drugs in the pipeline, no unused replacement drugs on the horizon.

Malaria already kills more than 6.6 lakh people annually, most of them kids under the age of 5. Without radical measures to curb the disease, drug resistance will become too big and impossible to contain in a populous country like India.

The Problem of Fake Medicines

The clandestine fake drug industry has hurt the image of India’s booming pharmaceutical industry and its exports, worth $8.5 billion a year, mostly to African and Latin American countries (Photo: iStock)
The clandestine fake drug industry has hurt the image of India’s booming pharmaceutical industry and its exports, worth $8.5 billion a year, mostly to African and Latin American countries (Photo: iStock)

The World Health Organisation says that more than one-fifth of all global malaria deaths are because of fake drugs.

A shocking 10-year study published in the medical journal The Lancet in 2013, found that:

A majority of these fake medicines are being manufactured in India and China. One-third of malaria drugs found in South East Asia, Africa and India are either poor quality or FAKE!

According to the latest World Malaria Report, 70% of India’s population faces the risk of getting malaria and fake, poor quality medicines could spell doom for India’s fight against the deadly disease.

The consequences of this can be multifold.

  • It can be fatal for a patient who has it because the drug will not be able to curb the disease.
  • Drug resistance can cross borders. When travellers and pregnant women who take anti-malarials as preventives, they will not work and leave them exposed to high risk of malaria.

Vectors Are Hyper-Mutators and a Vaccine Is Hard To Come By

The limited success in malaria vaccine development reflects, in part, that  answers of critical importance to product development efforts have neither been sought nor obtained in a systematic and coordinated way. (Photo: iStock)
The limited success in malaria vaccine development reflects, in part, that answers of critical importance to product development efforts have neither been sought nor obtained in a systematic and coordinated way. (Photo: iStock)

The malaria parasite is extremely diverse across the globe. The type which affects India is not the same as Cambodia, and that in turn differs from the parasite in Africa. With global travel, the different strains regularly mate and the genes spill over.

Scientists have now found that some malaria parasites have mutations that make them prone to mutating!

That also explains why it’s so goddamn hard to come up with an effective vaccine. The parasites keep changing in lab settings; by the time a vaccine candidate is ready, the vector has evolved in fifth gear, leaving the vaccine ineffective.

Many vaccines are in development, but none are consistently effective. Some experts wonder if an effective vaccine will ever be made, given that surviving a natural infection does not produce lifelong immunity.

There Is Hope

Though the number of deaths is staggeringly high, progress has been made against malaria.

Global deaths have fallen by two-thirds since 2000! Mostly because more than half of Africa’s population now sleeps under mosquito nets, compared with just 2% in 2000, and 6.2 million lives have been saved.

Hundreds of experts are building innovative ways to combat the deadly malaria mosquito. We have the science to defeat malaria. We just have to put concentrated measures together before it defeats us.

Related Read: Mutant Mosquitoes Are Here To Wipe off Malaria!

(Subscribe to FIT on Telegram)

Published: 
Stay Up On Your Health

Subscribe To Our Daily Newsletter Now.

Join over 120,000 subscribers!