Scientists Report Rapid Advances Toward Malaria Vaccine

November 21, 2002
Agence France-Presse

Nairobi, Kenya - Efforts by scientists to create a vaccine for malaria, which kills 2.7 million people every year, are "advancing rapidly," the Malaria Vaccine Initiative said Monday as a major conference on the disease got under way in Tanzania.  

"Presentations at the conference confirm that malaria vaccine research and development is advancing rapidly," according to a statement sent to AFP by MVI, an organization funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to boost vaccine research and eventual distribution.  

The Third Pan-African Malaria Conference of the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria, the largest gathering of its kind, began Sunday in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha.  

About 1,000 delegates are attending the conference.  

Cambodia sent five delegates of its own. The Cambodians joined malaria experts from Laos and Vietnam to introduce the methods used in those countries to counter malaria. The anti-malaria strategies for those countries include the use of public hospitals to help provide treatment to those already suffering malaria; volunteers to issue basic malaria treatment and diagnosis in remote, rural areas; and a so-called "social marketing" program that has introduced affordable anti-malaria medication to rural markets.  

The medicine is an effective combination therapy with a shortened, three-day regimen, making people more likely to take full doses and lessening the chances for the malaria parasite to develop a resistance.  

The methods used in the Southeast Asian countries will be passed on to other delegates in the global fight against malaria.  

"Every day 5,000 children die from malaria. Every year there are more than 1 billion clinical cases among children and adults worldwide," warned Gerald Keusch, Director of MIMÕs secretariat in his opening address on Sunday.  

"Unless new strategies are developed, death and illness due to malaria will increase," he said.  

According to MVI, "leading scientists are discussing key advances in challenges, from the results of clinical trials, to novel vaccine candidates that prompt unprecedented immune responses, to the issues involved in establishing clinical trial sites."  

"The combined efforts of industry, researchers and public health experts working in Africa are finally paving the way to a successful malaria vaccine," one of the conference speakers, W Ripley Ballou of the US-based biotech firm MedImmune said in the MVI statement.  

Tanzanian Prime Minister Frederick Sumaye opened the conference with an appeal for more money to speed up vaccine research.  

"There is need to help Africa build capacity for malaria research and control, as well as proper utilization of research results," he said in his keynote address.  

Some 75 percent of global malaria deaths are of African children under 5, according to MVI.  

Conference delegates are expected to be briefed on progress on several vaccine programs, including those run by GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals, the US army and the University of Nijimegen in the Netherlands. (Additional reporting by The Cambodia Daily)