If you blinked you missed it.
The amazing news hidden deep among all the wars, disasters, Ebola scares and nonsense of electing the World’s First Joke Prime Minister.
End of a world killer?
British drug giant Glaxo Smith Kline has applied for a licence for a new vaccine to defeat malaria, the first-ever defence against this world-killer that looks like being successful.
Four infection types exist to give us grief in our lives – bacteria, viruses, parasites and fungi. Malaria is by far the worst parasite to invade our bodies and has always ranked high on our list of killer dread diseases.
For the children’s sake
Now for the first time, we might be able to beat it – and significantly the new vaccine is designed specifically to work with children – African children, who are currently dying at one a minute from this terrible affliction – many more times worse than Ebola will ever be.
Actual figures are staggering – 198 MILLION cases in 2013, with 584,000 deaths. And this is one of those where disinfecting and watchful hygiene doesn’t help much – though malaria can be transmitted through contaminated blood.
The most effective defence is mosquito nets – and a darned good insecticide to clobber the anopheles mosquito (only the female of the species) that transmits it.
In the 1940s, the wonder-chemical DDT used to be it (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane) – a highly effective insecticide now banned across most of the world for the dangers it brings to the food chain and links to chronic illnesses.
Despite its high efficiency, DDT was found to be so poisonous in its side effects that over-use triggered the American watchdog Environmental Protection Agency in 1962. It killed mosquitoes, but it killed too many humans too.
The world is winning
Killer though it is, malaria is treatable if diagnosed and treated early. But with medical services stretched thin throughout the world’s tropical regions – as the current Ebola crisis demonstrates – treatment is not always possible.
The new vaccine, called RTS,S, is not infallible – but manages to reduce cases among toddlers by 36%. In parallel with this vaccine is an American alternative PfSPZ, intended for adults and still at the trial stage.
It may be too early to toast the success of either – though a celebratory glass may be appropriate if you’ve ever caught malaria and been lucky enough to be treated for it.
Think of England
In the days of Empire, gin and tonic was invented as a refreshing drink that masked the bitter taste of the anti-malarial quinine ingredient added to it.
On behalf of all the African children who now stand a fighting chance – cheers!