Friday December 6, 2019

WHO Launches World’s First Malaria Vaccine, Now Working on Vaccines Against Cancer

“Vaccines are one of the greatest inventions of humankind,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine

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malaria vaccine
A medical worker at Likuni Community Hospital, in Lilongwe, Malawai draws the malaria vaccine into a syringe for vaccination. VOA

This year, during World Immunization Week, the World Health Organization launched the world’s first malaria vaccine. Scientists are also testing a vaccine for HIV, and they are working on vaccines against cancer.

“Vaccines are one of the greatest inventions of humankind,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, a professor at the Baylor College of Medicine.

Global vaccination programs have ended smallpox, and they are closing in on polio, a disease that used to paralyze 350,000 people each year. Because of a global immunization program, that number now stands at 20. Pakistan and Afghanistan are the last remaining countries where the polio virus is still spreading.

Break the chains

Diseases like smallpox, polio and measles can only be transmitted from one person to another. Dr. Walter Orenstein from the Emory Vaccine Center says that’s why they can be wiped off the face of the earth.

“If you can break the chains of human to human transmission, you can eradicate the disease,” he said. “That’s how smallpox was eradicated.”

Malaria vaccine

Most of the diseases that can be prevented through vaccines are caused by viruses — think measles, mumps or chickenpox. But the most exciting news during World Immunization Week is about a vaccine against the parasite that causes malaria.

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A doctor assists people looking for treatment for malaria at a health center in San Felix, Venezuela. VOA

Dr. Pedro Alonso of the World Health Organization said Malawi, Ghana and Kenya will begin giving malaria vaccines to children in the coming weeks.

“This is the first vaccine against the human malaria parasite. Parasites are really complex organisms, much more so than a virus or a bacteria. And that’s why it has taken 30 years to develop this first vaccine,” he said.

Cancer and HIV

Vaccines can already protect against two types of cancer: cervical and oral cancers caused by the human papilloma virus and liver cancer caused by the hepatitis B virus. Now scientists are working to develop vaccines against breast cancer and other deadly cancers.

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FILE – Malaria drugs are seen on display in a privately owned pharmacy in Blantyre, Malawi. (L. Masina/VOA).

And then there’s HIV. HIV vaccine trials are going on in South Africa, and research is being done to develop an antibody-based HIV vaccine.

ALSO READ: Malawi Becomes First Country to Initiate Immunizing Children against Malaria

Dr. Carl Dieffenbach is a specialist in HIV at the National Institutes of Health. He says anti-AIDS drugs have already made a huge difference in controlling the epidemic. “We put a vaccine on top of that, too, it’s not just stopping the epidemic. It’s ending the epidemic,” he said.

A world free from these diseases will be a world where more people can raise healthy children, earn a living and get out of poverty. It would be a world where not only people, but countries could prosper. (VOA)

Next Story

Tobacco Epidemic: WHO Urges Nations to Implement Anti-Tobacco Measures

While this is progress, it is seen as far too little to stop the global tobacco epidemic that each year prematurely kills more than eight million people

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FILE - A man has his lunch behind a poster demarcating a No-Smoking zone in Singapore. VOA

The World Health Organization (WHO) is urging nations to implement a series of cost-effective, anti-tobacco measures it says will help their populations quit smoking. A new WHO report found that progress in combating the tobacco epidemic and in reducing demand is being made, but not enough.

A survey found 36 countries have introduced one or more measures aimed at helping people quit smoking. Only Turkey and Brazil have implemented all of WHO’s recommended anti-tobacco measures. These include graphic images on cigarette packages warning of the dangers of smoking, banning tobacco advertising and promotion, and raising taxes on tobacco products.

While this is progress, it is seen as far too little to stop the global tobacco epidemic that each year prematurely kills more than eight million people, 80 percent of them in developing countries.

Program manager of WHO’s tobacco control unit, Vinayak Prasad, accuses the tobacco industry of being devious and finding new ways to hinder progress. He said the industry is reinventing itself in hopes of shedding its bad reputation and regaining legitimacy.

anti-tobacco measures
While this is progress, it is seen as far too little to stop the global tobacco epidemic that each year prematurely kills more than eight million people. Pixabay

“So, that is one of the reasons that many countries are finding it difficult to make progress because the industry has gone into creating new and novel products and pushing the governments to have less regulatory compliances,” he said. “And, that is a problem in all regions of the world.”

Prasad said the tobacco industry has come up with several smoking alternatives it claims are less dangerous than cigarettes. However, he noted the new heated tobacco products are the same as cigarettes, except they do not emit any smoke. He said electronic cigarettes do not contain tobacco but do have nicotine — and there is no evidence that e-cigarettes help people quit.

ALSO READ: Report: 21% Girls Face Cyberbullying in 2016-17 than 7% Boys

“The evidence in the U.S., for example, is that they were liberal to open the market for electronic cigarettes for almost like seven, eight years,” he said. “In one stroke, they have seen an increase in youth tobacco in the last three years; where the youth is starting to get to say, ‘Oh, this is safer, this is nice. Let us take it and then move on to tobacco.’ So, it is also a gateway for young people.”

The World Health Organization warns tobacco has a huge health and economic cost. It says cigarettes are the number one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, cancers and respiratory diseases. The agency says the cost to the world economy is $1.4 trillion or nearly two percent of global Gross Domestic Product. (VOA)