The World Health Organisation (WHO) recently signalled hope that a malaria vaccine will be available for use worldwide within three years. According to the agency’s Director in charge of Global Malaria Programme, Dr. Robert Newman, who broke the good news at the just-concluded African Union (AU) special summit on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria in Abuja, the world may have its first successful vaccine for the prevention of malaria by 2015. The global health body disclosed that malaria vaccine trials going on at eleven sites across seven countries in Africa were recording remarkable success, indicating that malaria infection will soon become vaccine-preventable.
This is cheering news for Nigeria and other tropical countries which carry the greater share of the burden of this disease. Medical experts have agreed that a vaccine offers the best hope for significant improvement in malaria control, particularly in Africa, where the poor environment is such that effective control of the mosquito vector has proved difficult or impossible to achieve.
We commend the global agency for its stride in ensuring that malaria and other life-threatening diseases ravaging many parts of the world are kept under control. There is no doubt that malaria is stymieing development in Africa and other parts of the world where the disease is still endemic. It is elating, therefore, that at last a vaccine that will drastically stem the disease, and possibly eradicate it from the world, is on the way. This shinning light that is now visible at the end of the dark tunnel of the malaria scourge deserves the encouragement and support of the entire world to make it a reality.
The cost of malaria in Nigeria is almost incalculable. Besides the billions of taxpayers’ money spent on procurement of anti-malaria medications, many man-hours are lost to hospitalisation as a result of the disease. There is also the inevitable absence of infected students from schools, with the attendant negative impact on performance in school examinations. The situation is not much different in many other countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Nigeria, in particular, has been estimated to lose N132 billion to malaria annually through treatment costs, prevention and loss of man-hours.
This prospect for a successful malaria vaccine should, therefore, be applauded and specially supported by governments in all developing countries where the disease is a major cause of child and maternal deaths. It is, in fact, the number one killer disease in most resource-poor countries of the developing world.
We urge the WHO to be steadfast and painstaking in this effort. The expected vaccine will not only significantly reduce the disease burden of many African countries, it will also help development on the continent as money hitherto allocated to malaria medicines can now be deployed to infrastructure and other critical areas of national life.
Available statistics shows that 116 million people from four African countries including Nigeria are suffering from malaria. The other countries that share the pitiable league with Nigeria are Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Kenya. According to the Health Minister, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, this figure accounts for 47 percent of global malaria burden. The disease kills 660,000 people every year, most of them African children. Every day, about 1,500 children die from the scourge. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there were about 219 million malaria cases in 2010. Currently, there are about 247 million malaria cases per year and Africa accounts for 86 percent or 212 million. So far, about $4.4 billion (about N620 billion) has been mobilised from donor agencies and African governments in the fight against the disease in Africa over the next three years.
While we await the malaria vaccine, government should intensify efforts at keeping the disease under control. Vector control is one good way to contain malaria spread in highly endemic regions in Africa. There is need to embrace integrated approach in fighting the scourge. Using anti-malaria medications and insecticide-treated bednets should be complemented by public hygiene and environmental cleanliness. Those afflicted with the disease should be advised to avail themselves of good treatment which is available and affordable in most government health facilities in the rural and urban areas. Let the WHO do all it can to keep to the deadline it has set for the production of this badly needed vaccine.