Researchers for a biotech company called Sanaria announced last week that they had made significant progress in developing a new vaccine for malaria. The disease is transmitted by a parasite contained in the saliva of mosquitos. While more than 20 vaccines are in trial, the Sanaria version is unique in that it contains weakened malarial parasites. These parasites are injected into the patient’s bloodstream, triggering the production of antibodies. This replicates the process by which malarial resistance is transmitted in the developing world.
An estimated 200 million people—mostly in the developing world—are infected with malaria. The disease kills an estimated 650,000 people per year and has a devastating impact on economic development in the global south. Indeed, one study showed that the gross domestic product per capita in countries with malaria was $1,526, while countries without had an average GDP per capita of $8,268. Similarly, between 1965 and 1980, countries without malaria grew at an average of 2.4 percent per year, while countries with malaria grew at an average rate of just 0.4 percent per year. Another study suggests that malaria costs the countries of Africa at least $12 billion per year in both direct costs (associated with health care) and indirect costs (in terms of days of work and education lost, decreased productivity due to brain damage resulting from cerebral malaria, and lost investment and tourism revenues).
Developing a vaccine for malaria has thus become one of the central epidemiological challenges of our era. But while more than 20 different possible vaccines are currently in various stages of clinical trials, to date finding an effective vaccine has proven difficult.
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