If you live in the United States, chances are you’ve never had to think about the parasite-caused disease called malaria. But malaria is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. According to 2015 statistics from the World Health Organization (WHO), 212 million people were infected with malaria, and the disease killed nearly 430,000 people that year alone.
Malaria disproportionately affects children in the sub-Saharan Africa region, and while there are anti-malarial drugs available in the United States, there still isn’t a vaccine to prevent the disease. However, scientists and researchers have been working on vaccine development for decades, and thanks to research developed through blood material donations, the first human trials are scheduled to start in 2018.
Keep reading to learn all about this global disease and efforts to eradicate it. You’ll also learn how your blood material donations might help find a cure for malaria once and for all.
What Is Malaria?
Malaria is a disease spread by parasite-infected mosquitos. When an infected mosquito bites a human, the insect transfers the parasite into the human’s bloodstream.
In its mildest form, malaria causes high fevers, chills, and sweating. More severe malarial infections can cause difficulty breathing, kidney failure, anemia, seizures, comas, and even death. Children with malaria often suffer neurological problems like deafness, blindness, or trouble speaking and moving.
If you’re infected with malaria, you’re unlikely to have only one feverish attack. Instead, malaria can recur throughout the years, causing relapses whenever parasites that are living in the liver attack again.
Who Is Most at Risk for Developing Malaria?
Malaria primarily affects people in sub-Saharan Africa, though in total, around half the world’s population lives in an area subject to the disease. Pregnant women and children, in particular, tend to suffer the worst effects of malaria, and malaria is one of the leading causes of death in young children worldwide—around 70% of all malarial deaths happen to children age five or younger.
Travelers from non-malarial areas are also at an increased risk of developing the disease. If you’re planning on traveling to an area with malaria, you’ll need a prescription for medication that will reduce your risk of contracting malaria while you’re abroad.
Why Isn’t There a Malaria Vaccine on the Market Yet?
Most vaccines are made to prevent diseases caused by viruses or bacteria. However, since parasites cause malaria, it’s much harder to develop a vaccine. Plus, the parasite that causes malaria isn’t well understood by the medical community. The parasite hatches, lives, and dies in seemingly erratic cycles that are hard to identify and target.
Will Scientists Ever Develop a Malaria Vaccine?
The medical community is hopeful that they’ll create a vaccine that can completely wipe out malaria—and such a development might be right around the corner. Human trials of the first-ever malaria vaccine are due to begin in 2018 in the sub-Saharan countries of Kenya, Malawi, and Ghana. The WHO will distribute the vaccine to infants and young children who are at a higher risk of death and serious complications from malaria.
Unfortunately, the most recent clinical trials reveal that the vaccine is only partially effective against the most dangerous strain of malaria. Scientists still have a lot of work to do as they develop a more effective vaccine, and hopefully, the human trials will help steer them in the right direction.
How Do Blood Material Donors Help?
One major way vaccines develop and progress is through the assistance of blood and blood material donors. When you donate plasma and blood platelets, scientists can use this blood material to experiment with different vaccines, eventually leading to human trials and, hopefully, a widely available and affordable vaccine that can reduce deaths, illness, and suffering worldwide.
Want to be part of the global effort to eradicate malaria? Key Biologics (A Cellero Company) compensates eligible donors for their blood donations and uses those donations to further medical research. Get in touch with us today to find out if you’re eligible to donate and, if so, how much you can be compensated.