Could A Malaria Vaccine Be On The Way?

malaria
USAID and the President’s Malaria Initiative support the distribution and use of bednets to protect against malaria. Bednets are important for children and pregnant women who are most vulnerable to the disease. Photo: Alison Bird/USAID

The UK drug company GlaxoSmithKline is applying for regulatory approval of the world’s first malaria vaccine, the BBC reports.

The move comes after tests that the company said were promising. For the past several years, GlaxoSmithKline has conducted tests of its vaccine on almost 15,500 children in seven African countries. The company reports that 18 months after vaccination, there was a 27 percent reduction in malaria cases in infants aged 6-12 weeks and a 46 percent reduction in children aged 5-17 months.

Now it’s applying to the European Medicines Agency to start marketing the vaccine. GlaxoSmithKline’s research was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the company says it will make the vaccine affordable for poorer nations.Ninety percent of the world’s malaria cases are in the poorer regions of sub-Saharan Africa where the vaccine was tested. Globally, malaria kills 800,000 people a year. It’s also a major hazard for adventure travelers. While antimalarial pills are generally effective, they can have serious side effects. A vaccination would go a long way to easing the burden on people who choose to visit the tropics.

Approval for the vaccine could come in 2014. Unfortunately, the percentages the company is quoting do not indicate that it will be as effective as many of the vaccines we are used to. Other measures are still needed like the education of the public of the dangers of standing water and the need to use mosquito netting. More innovative methods for fighting the disease like infecting them with bacteria are also being studied.

Hopefully GlaxoSmithKline’s vaccine will be just the first generation of a series of improving vaccines that will one day relieve the world of a dangerous disease.

Best Anti-Drug Poster Ever Found In Santander, Spain

anti-drug poster
I was at my local Sanidad Exterior here in Santander, Spain, getting some medicine for an upcoming trip when I spotted this wonderful poster. It reads: “If you bring drugs aboard the plane they’ll cook you lobster and the captain will let you fly.”

The next line reads: “If you believe that taking drugs is the solution to your problems you’ll believe anything.”

This brightened up an otherwise boring wait to see the doctor. While I don’t buy the myth that “all drugs are evil and need to be banned for your own good,” I do think this poster is a quick remedy for stoners who think they can flout international law and common sense just because they’re seeing the world on daddy’s credit card. It’s a big world out there, kids, and it’s just as interesting with a clear head.

Spain has come up with some other fun warnings on the dangers of travel. Last year, I wrote about another anti-drug poster.

[Image courtesy Ministerio de Sanidad, Servicios Sociales e Igualdad]

Opinion: Dutch khat ban smacks of racism

khat, qat
The Dutch government recently announced that it will ban the use of khat, a narcotic leaf widely chewed in the Horn of Africa and Yemen.

I’ve written about khat before. I’ve spent four months in Ethiopia, especially Harar, a city in the eastern part of the country where chewing khat (pronounced “chat” in the local languages) is part of many people’s daily lives. It’s a mild drug that makes most people more relaxed, mildly euphoric, and talkative. It also helps concentration and is popular among university students.

Of course there are side effects. Short-term effects include sleeplessness, constipation, and for some people a listlessness that keeps them from achieving their potential. Long-term use can lead to mental instability and heart trouble. I met one western researcher in Harar who had been there two years. He’d stopped using khat after the first few months because he was afraid of the long-term effects. If I lived in Harar that long I’d stop chewing khat for that very reason.

So the Dutch government seems to have a good reason to ban khat. Or does it? This is a country where marijuana, hash, herbal ecstasy, and psychedelic truffles are all legal. And if we’re talking about long-term health effects, we need to throw in alcohol and tobacco too.

So what’s different about khat? It’s almost exclusively used by the Dutch Somali community, numbering about 25,000 people. According to the BBC, “a Dutch government report cited noise, litter and the perceived public threat posed by men who chew khat as some of the reasons for outlawing the drug.”

Drunks aren’t noisy? Cigarette smokers never litter? The last reason is the most telling: “the perceived public threat posed by men who chew khat.” In other words, black men. In Europe, khat is a black drug, little understood and rarely used by the white population. This ignorance and the fear it generates are the real reasons khat is being banned.

While there are some valid health and social reasons for banning this narcotic plant, they also apply to the narcotic plants white people like to use. But we can’t expect white people in The Netherlands to give up those, can we?

%Gallery-93278%

Dutch government to ban skunk weed

skunk weed, joint, marijuanaThe Dutch government is planning on reclassifying skunk weed as a hard drug, the BBC reports.

All marijuana with more than 15% THC content will have to be removed from the country’s coffee shops. The new rule will go into force next year and will affect about 80% of the pot sold in coffee shops.

The Dutch government has already announced plans to ban drug tourism by requiring customers to prove residency in The Netherlands before being allowed to buy marijuana. That plan will also go into effect next year, assuming it actually becomes law. Drug tourism makes an awful lot of money for an awful lot of people in The Netherlands, so the law is sure to meet some strong opposition.

But don’t worry, stoners, there are still places where you can get all bleary eyed and chow down on donuts. In Spain it’s legal to grow a small number of pot plants for personal use, and Portugal, which has the most liberal drug laws in Europe.

So if you’re headed to Holland next year, instead of lighting up, check out these other fun things to do in The Netherlands.

Drugs and travel don’t mix (in most places)


Flying out of Madrid’s Barajas airport last week I spotted this curious poster. Sorry for the crappy photo, but there was a light right in front of it. The poster asks, “Do you seriously believe that being around drugs overseas would be fun?”

The message is one to think about. Most recreational drugs are illegal in most places, and going to jail isn’t fun anywhere, yet I have to wonder about the subtext of this poster. It seems to be saying, “Stay away from drugs, son, or scary dark people with bad teeth will beat you up, steal your right shoe, and use you like a woman.”

In reality, the main dangers of using drugs overseas are being ripped off by the dealer or getting framed. This is especially common in Morocco and India, where a friendly guy will offer you drugs and when you buy them, call the cops on you. He and the cops will then take you for everything you got, and you better hope you’re not a woman in this situation.

So kids, be sensible. Take the legal drugs. Drink real ale in England. Smoke dope in The Netherlands. Chew qat in Ethiopia and Somaliland. Drink coffee and smoke tobacco just about anywhere. If it’s legal, it couldn’t be bad for you!