Malaria, still a scourge in Africa despite a new vaccine

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Paris (AFP) – Malaria is caused by a mosquito-borne parasite and, despite the recent introduction of a vaccine, remains a formidable scourge, particularly for African children.

Malaria (another name for malaria), which is World Day on Monday, April 25, caused the deaths of 627,000 people worldwide in 2020, according to an estimate by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The number of deaths increased by 12% in 12 months, mainly due to “disruptions” in access to care related to the Covid-19 pandemic.

50% of the world population affected

Half of the world’s population is threatened by malaria. According to the WHO, 241 million cases of malaria were registered worldwide in 2020.

Risk areas are the eastern Mediterranean, the Pacific zone, America and Southeast Asia.

Especially in Africa

The vast majority of cases (95%) and deaths (96%) occur in Africa: this region “carries a large and disproportionate share of the global burden of malaria,” laments the WHO.

Just over half of the world’s registered cases occur in four African countries: Nigeria (31.9% of cases in 2020), Democratic Republic of the Congo (13.2%), Tanzania (4.1%) and Mozambique (3 ,8th %).

malaria Marine LEDOUX AFP/Archive

Children under 5 years old

At the same time, “children under the age of five are the group most affected by malaria,” emphasizes the organization.

In 2020, 80% of malaria deaths on the African continent were in children under the age of five.

Five types of parasites

Malaria is a very old disease, known since ancient times. It is manifested by fever, headache, and muscle aches, then by cycles of chills, fever, and sweating.

A total of five parasite species of the genus Plasmodium are responsible for this disease, all of which are transmitted by mosquito bites.

A child is vaccinated against malaria in Yala, Kenya, October 2021
A child is vaccinated against malaria in Yala, Kenya, October 2021 Brian Ongoro AFP/Archive

Plasmodium falciparum is the most pathogenic species and is responsible for fatal cases. It occurs in the tropical zones of Africa, Latin America and Asia.

Preventive and curative treatments

There are different types of preventive and curative treatments.

Early diagnosis and treatment reduce the intensity of the disease, prevent deaths, and limit transmission.

According to WHO, “The best available treatment, particularly for Plasmodium falciparum malaria, is artemisinin-based combination therapy.”

Mosquitoes in a petri dish to be observed under a microscope at a malaria research laboratory in Ouagadougou, Burkina, August 2019
Mosquitoes in a petri dish to be observed under a microscope at a malaria research laboratory in Ouagadougou, Burkina, August 2019 Olympia DE MAISMONT AFP/Archive

Preventive treatments are also urgently recommended for pregnant women and small children who live in risk areas, as well as for travelers to these regions.

“Vector control” against the transmitting mosquito is also an important response to the disease, with the use of mosquito nets impregnated with insecticide being recommended by the WHO.

– A vaccine recommended by WHO-

The RTS,S vaccine developed by British pharmaceutical company GSK targets the most dangerous species of Plasmodium, P. falciparum.

In October 2021, after positive studies in Malawi, Ghana and Kenya, the WHO recommended the “wide use” of this vaccine in children living in risk areas, mainly in Africa.

Spraying mosquito insecticides to combat malaria in May 2018 near Obuasi, Ghana
Spraying mosquito insecticides to combat malaria in May 2018 near Obuasi, Ghana CRISTINA ALDEHUELA AFP/Archive

The vaccine “has been shown to reduce mortality from malaria in young children,” according to the organization.

Other vaccines could come onto the market in the coming years, including Matrix-M, developed by the University of Oxford, which studies have shown to be very effective.

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