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.

Ethiopia tops list of African nations improving quality of life

Ethiopia suffers from a bad image thanks to the war and famine of the 1980s. As my series on travel in Ethiopia showed, however, this is a land of friendly people, beautiful nature, and fascinating historic sites. Infrastructure is slowly improving and the Ethiopians are making serious efforts to boost education, access to clean drinking water, and other improvements to the quality of life.

These efforts have been recognized in the UN’s 2010 Human Development Report. It ranked Ethiopia as number 11 in the world for improving human development since 1970, the highest ranking in Africa. The report was prepared by the United Nations Development Programme and measures progress in health, education, income, gender equality, and other areas. Researchers then formulate a “human development index” (HDI) for 135 countries.

Other high-ranking African nations include Botswana (14th), Benin (18th) and Burkina Faso (21st). All of these countries and some others have done especially well in the past ten years. Only looking at the past decade, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda, and Uganda all come out in the global top ten.

One of the biggest areas of improvement was in education. Literacy has almost tripled in Sub-Saharan Africa in the past 40 years to 65 percent. Also, life expectancy is up and infant mortality is down.

Sadly, not all the news is good. The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Zambia, and Zimbabwe were the only three countries in the world where quality of life actually went down.

Good news for Ethiopia is good news to travelers too. While the country is still an adventure travel destination, it’s not as rugged as many people think. I spent two months there and my wife spent three weeks, and in all that time we never got sick. Chalk one up for good sanitation and clean water! Also, Ethiopia scores well of gender equality, which meant that, unlike some countries we’ve been to, my wife didn’t get harassed by obnoxious guys. Good education meant we met lots of people who spoke English and wanted to improve it by chatting with us. Improved infrastructure meant there were more paved roads along our route than there were ten years ago.

When it comes to improvements in a country’s Human Development Index everybody benefits, even people who don’t live there!

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Norway world’s best place to live

I’m not sure if everybody wants to live in Norway, but it’s certainly at the top of the global list. The United Nations Development Program determined this based on data GDP, education and life expectancy – among other metrics – to find the best of the best, as well as the other end of the spectrum. The data’s from 2007, though, so it doesn’t reflect a post-financial crisis world.

Joining Norway are Australia and Iceland, the latter of which was a hot location until a year ago, when the entire country got an International Monetary Fund package normally reserved for the third-est of third-world countries. Yet, even with the recession in mind, Iceland (a favorite destination of mine) is still far better than Niger, Afghanistan and Sierra Leone, which sit at the bottom of the list. Several other sub-Saharan African states also ranked toward the bottom because of ongoing war and the proliferation of HIV/AIDS.

The spread is most evident in life expectancy, where a mailing address in Norway would add 30 years relative to Niger. In Niger, the current average life expectancy is 50. And, for every dollar that someone earns in Niger, the same person would pick up $85 in Norway. In Afghanistan, one can expect to live only 43.6 years.

Money matters, still. Lichtenstein continues to boast the world’s highest GDP per capital at $85,383. The 35,000 people who live there share the small principality with 15 banks and more than 100 wealth management companies. The Democratic Republic of Congo has the lowest income in the world: $298 per person per year.

The top climbers on the list for 2007 were China, Iran and Nepal.