I narrowly survived an infection of cerebral malaria when I was 10 years old. We lived just outside of Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania, and because my father did not believe in Western medicine, he forbade my mother from seeking treatment for me when I fell ill. If treated at the immediate onset of symptoms the chances of recovery are quite high.
However, by the time she took me into Dar to the hospital, I beyond the threshold of medical intervention. The doctors told my mother to take me home and prepare for my death. My mother did take me home where I lapsed into a coma while she tried everything she knew to break the fever and bring me back.
Through her valiant caring and prayer I awoke from my coma I remained critically ill for many months afterward. I was one of the lucky few who survive cerebral malaria in which mortality rates for patients is as high as 50%. This particularly pernicious disease is the number one killer in the world today with a 90% percent of malaria-related deaths occurring in sub-Saharan Africa.
The PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) was funded in large part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and conducted trials on 6,000 children at 11 sites across sub-Saharan Africa. The trials showed that three doses of the RTS,S vaccine reduced the risk of children experiencing clinical malaria and severe malaria by 56 percent and 47 percent respectively.
Research is continuing, and efficacy and safety results in 6 to 12 week-old babies are expected by the end of 2012. Information about the longer-term protective effects of the vaccine, 30 months after the third dose, should be available by the end of 2014.
“A vaccine is the simplest, most cost-effective way to save lives,” says Gates.
“These results demonstrate the power of working with partners to create a malaria vaccine that has the potential to protect millions of children from this devastating disease.”
“These results confirm findings from previous Phase II studies and support ongoing efforts to advance the development of this malaria vaccine candidate,” says Tsiri Agbenyega, a principal investigator of the trial and Chair of the Clinical Trials Partnership Committee.
“Having worked in malaria research for more than 25 years, I can attest to how difficult making progress against this disease has been. Sadly, many have resigned themselves to malaria being a fact of life in Africa. This need not be the case.”
The team is now working towards approval by regulatory authorities. If the Phase III trials go well, the World Health Organization (WHO) has indicated that it could recommend the RTS,S malaria vaccine candidate as early as 2015, allowing African nations to include the vaccine in their national immunization programs.