Monday, October 1, 2012
Review: The Heart Broke In by James Meek
The Malaria Vaccine
In The Heart Broke In, Rebecca Shepherd, one of the main characters, is a scientist who discovers a potential vaccine for malaria that is 50% effective. In 2011, such a vaccine was announced to the public much to the delight of the world health community. While vaccines for other common diseases such as polio and measles have much greater efficacy, the 50% reduction is still considered a milestone in a disease that has been hard to manage and that has been with humanity for more than 500,000 years.
Malaria is caused by a single-celled parasite from the genus Plasmodium. Four d
ifferent kinds bring about malaria in humans, each with a slightly different set of symptoms. Efforts to control the disease have in the past included spraying with DDT, a toxic insecticide that kills mosquitoes, the vector for the parasite. DDT-resistant mosquitoes are now everywhere and the most reliable defense against malaria until recently has been the regular use of mosquito nets. The Nothing But Nets campaign is a global grassroots campaign that works to educate people about the reliability and efficacy of mosquito nets.
The Bill and Melinda Gates, which has been known to fund large chunks of malaria research through grants made to the non-profit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, made the complete eradication of malaria a priority. It has been argued that this goal is esoteric and might be near impossible to achieve. Funding for the malaria vaccine research was underwritten by the foundation and by Glaxo Smith Kline which has said that it will work on producing the vaccine at the lowest possible costs so it will be accessible to the most needy.
Malaria mosquito picture from CDC. Photography credit: James Gathany
The review can be found here.