This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 12th (it came out in 2015), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Will Vaccines Mean the Death of Malaria in Africa?

Today is World Malaria Day and that is, of course, nothing to celebrate in the usual sense. However, there was some good news from the World Health Organization. Three African countries--Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi--will participate in a WHO malaria vaccine program, building on slow, but steady progress against this ancient deadly disease:
Nearly half of the world's population is at risk of malaria. In 2015, there were roughly 212 million malaria cases and an estimated 429 000 malaria deaths. Increased prevention and control measures have led to a 29% reduction in malaria mortality rates globally since 2010. Sub-Saharan Africa continues to carry a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2015, the region was home to 90% of malaria cases and 92% of malaria deaths.
The new vaccine has been developed for young children, who are at the greatest risk of death:
The injectable vaccine, RTS,S, was developed to protect young children from the most deadly form of malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum. RTS,S will be assessed in the pilot programme as a complementary malaria control tool that could potentially be added to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention.
“The prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news. Information gathered in the pilot will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine”, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa,” she added.
Since the discovery in the late 19th century that mosquitos were the vector for the disease, the main course of action has been prevention--try not to get bitten by a mosquito. That will always be a good idea, of course, but if the vaccine works well in these pilot studies, as it has in trials, then we might really move to a time when the disease is gone, and we can trade in World Malaria Day for Hey, Mama, I'm Still Alive Day. 

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