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HEALTH REPORT – Progress Toward a Malaria Vaccine - 2004-10-26

Broadcast: October 27, 2004

This is Gwen Outen with the VOA Special English Health Report.

There is progress toward a vaccine to prevent malaria. Researchers have been testing an experimental vaccine in Mozambique. This is what they have found:

In a group of one thousand six hundred children, the vaccine reduced the risk of malaria attacks by thirty percent. It reduced the risk of severe cases of the disease by almost sixty percent.

Also, the vaccine appeared effective in preventing new cases of infection with the malaria parasite most common in Africa. In a second group of four hundred children, the vaccine reduced the risk of new infections by forty-five percent.

The findings appeared earlier this month in The Lancet.

The researchers say the experimental vaccine is safe. Doctor Pedro Alonso of the University of Barcelona, in Spain, led the study. He says the vaccine should protect children for at least six months. He noted that earlier tests found that the protection lasted only a short time in adults.

There are several hundred million cases of malaria in the world each year. Malaria damages the nervous system, kidneys and liver. By current estimates, at least one million people a year die from malaria. Most of those victims are young children in Africa. In fact, malaria kills more African children under the age of five than any other disease.

The economic costs to Africa from malaria are estimated at twelve thousand million dollars a year.

People get malaria when they are bitten by mosquitoes that carry the parasite. Researchers say the malaria parasite is more complex than organisms that cause many other diseases. That has made it more difficult to find a vaccine that is safe and effective. Cost is also an important issue.

The Ministry of Health in Mozambique, the drug company GlaxoSmithKline and the Malaria Vaccine Initiative supported the tests. The initiative began in nineteen ninety-nine with fifty million dollars from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

More testing is needed. Experts say they do not expect a malaria vaccine to be approved for use until at least two thousand ten. GlaxoSmithKline says it can take six years to build a factory where the vaccine can be made.

More than one-third of all people live in countries with malaria. By two thousand ten, experts say that share of the population will increase to half.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Karen Leggett. This is Gwen Outen.