The paradox of the quest for malaria vaccines


Malaria kills about 3000 children daily and over one million people every year globally. Ninety percent of fatalities occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Research has shown that malaria costs Africa about USD $12 billion in lost GDP. Africa equally spends about USD $900 million on malaria drugs and other control measures.

It is thus obvious that many pharmaceutical companies are benefiting from the endemic malaria situation in Africa. It is equally clear that malaria is majorly an African problem and it is foolhardy to expect the West and the pharmaceutical companies to give priority to developing effective vaccines against malaria.

Why would those who are presently profiting from the current endemic malaria situation be expected to bring an end to our misery and their own profits? They would rather focus on temporary control drugs and methods instead of funding a permanent solution through effective vaccines. Malaria, notwithstanding what they would want us to believe, is a big money spinning business for them. While malaria gives us misery and death, it promotes a healthy balance sheets for the pharmaceutical companies.

Who wears the shoe knows where it pinches. Sub-Saharan African governments should realise that the greatest impediment to our greatness is malaria. It kills both the rich and the poor. It impedes both the president and the clerk. The educated and the illiterate are victims. It does not, equally distinguish between the sophisticated and the provincial. The malaria vector abhors discrimination – it treats the prince and pauper equally. The situation is such that we should be ashamed of ourselves that but, for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the RTS malaria vaccine would still have been a mirage.

I wonder at times whether we are incapable of analytically thinking about solutions to our collective problems. We are very deficient in taking decisions for collective benefits. Ours is not a continent where old men plant trees, knowing fully well they would not be around to enjoy the shade. Otherwise, it should not be that difficult for African leaders to realise that it is more cost effective to jointly set up a billion dollar fund for finding a permanent solution to the malaria problem, than losing about USD $12 billion in GDP annually. There are many humane, selfless and knowledgeable scientists out there who would chase the glory of bringing an end to malaria if given the right resources in conducive environment.

If the corruption stories we are regaled with daily is anything to go by, Nigeria alone (we incidentally suffer the highest malaria induced fatalities) can adequately and effectively fund the quest for effective vaccines against malaria. Rather than do this, we prefer spending our scarce resources frivolously, that is, if do not outrightly and brazenly embezzle those resources.

In conclusion, Nigeria in particular and other African countries in general must rethink the endemic malaria situation and change direction by fashioning a new strategy. We must not continue to rely on the West and the Bill Gates of this world to chart the way forward concerning the eradication of malaria. We must realise that if we tackle malaria successfully, we would have succeeded in lifting several million Africans out of poverty and misery. The time for the African Special Malaria Fund is now.

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  1. Exactly. Why can’t the AU jointly fund malaria research with contributions from countries based on their sizes/resources. Pharmaceutical companies are businesses, they’re not humanitarian organisations.

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