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Don’t discard old cures for malaria

The claim by Indian scientists in March this year that a vaccine for malaria has been discovered is perhaps not true. In what was hailed as a possible breakthrough in the intensive research field that is the hunt for the malaria vaccine, scientists at the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB), New Delhi, had declared that they might have succeeded in discovering key antigens that could act as a deterrent against Plasmodium falciparum, one of the parasite causing the contagion. However, it now appears that the claims might have come too early before adequate verification and could have been speculative. Already there have been efforts to control malaria, and the scientists had earlier done humanity a service by identifying the key parasite. However, it is not clear whether those who have suggested that they have found a vaccine for this disease have authoritatively tested their assertions. The previous approach, which was developed with incredible amount of research, effectively, blocks the malaria parasite. Yet, there isn’t enough substantial evidence that the new approach, which involves testing combinations of parasite antigens to trigger immunological reactions in the body, actually works to contain the disease.

Without trying to block new research it is important not to discard the tried and tested methods of curbing malaria, which is one of the important vector-bourne diseases in India and causes severe illness and death. On an average, 40,297 Indians die of this mosquito-borne disease every year with the overall number of malaria cases being approximately 9.75 million. A study indicated that malaria actually killed an estimated 46,800 Indians in 2010. The study estimated 4,800 malaria deaths in children younger than 5 years and 42,000 malaria deaths in those aged 5 years or older for 2010 as against 19,000 malaria deaths in children younger than 5 years and 87,000 malaria deaths in those aged 5 years or older in 2002. These are huge losses to the disease. According to a report in 2011, over 70 per cent of India’s population face the risk of malaria infection with around 31 crore people facing the highest risk. The world has over 10 crore suspected malaria cases but only 15.9 lakh could be confirmed in 2010. The cure that that already exists is simple and cheap and should not be done away with.

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