Scientists at the International Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) in New Delhi deserve to be congratulated for having discovered antigens from which a malaria vaccine can be developed. This discovery will lead to the elimination of this dangerous disease in the long run. Malaria remains a disease that has not yet been conquered by humanity and continues to take its toll yearly despite advances in science. It continues to be a scourge of humanity, especially in tropical and semi-tropical countries, in spite of all the efforts to control it. The scientists in New Delhi has thus done humanity a signal service as their work brings the dream of a preventive vaccine against malaria a step closer. The scientists have tested a large number of antibody combinations which inhibit the invasion of the Plasmodium falciparum, a dangerous strain of the parasite that causes malaria and brings about deaths. Their study identifies key parasite antigens that can form the basis of an effective malaria vaccine, with the next step being to devise a strategy to deliver these antigens into the human body in such a way that they elicit an immune response. Thus an approach has been developed that effectively blocks the malaria parasite and leads to its neutralisation.
This is important as malaria is one of the important vector-borne diseases in India that cause 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 Lancet study published in 2011 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 five years or older in 2002. These are huge losses to the disease. According to the World Malaria Report 2011, over 70 per cent of India’s population faces the risk of malaria infection with around 31 crore people facing the highest risk. India has over 10 crore suspected malaria cases but only 15.9 lakh could be confirmed in 2010. It is to be hoped that the efforts of the scientific team will continue to bear fruit and provide a much needed cure to millions suffering from the disease.