Abigal Aguanyi, a trader and mother in Ghana, knows first-hand how dangerous malaria can be -her two-year-old niece nearly died from it.
So when she heard that a new vaccine was being rolled out against the disease, that across the world kills a child every two minutes, she was one of the first to sign up her baby daughter.
The World Health Organization (WHO) says 219 million people were infected with malaria in 2017, more than 90 per cent of cases occurred in Africa.
In Ghana alone, there were 5.5 million confirmed cases of malaria last year, and many more suspected.
Six-month-old Blessing, Aguanyi’s daughter, has received the first injection, like 360,000 other under two-years-old in Ghana, Malawi and Kenya, the three countries taking part in the landmark vaccine campaign.
Children are especially at risk from the deadly mosquito-born disease and babies were Ghana’s first vaccine recipients last month in the southern town of Cape Coast, 150 kilometres (90 miles) west of the capital, Accra.
Blessing will have three further doses up to the age of two under the programme, which will enable health officials to evaluate the vaccine’s effectiveness.
Aguanyi said that she would urge other parents to bring their children for the free jab.
“Because of money constraints, some wait till their child’s situation is critical,” Aguanyi said.
“When they bring them to the hospital, the child will be very weak, or even die.”
30 years of research –
Known by its lab initials ‘RTS,S’, the vaccine is the result of more than three decades of development and almost $1 billion in investment.
It has been developed by British pharmaceutical giant, GlaxoSmithKline in partnership with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative and financed by the Gavi public-private global health partnership.
The vaccine is an additional tool in the fight against malaria, but does not represent a magic bullet.
It was found to prevent approximately four out of 10 malaria cases, according to the WHO, which supports Ghana’s health ministry in rolling out the vaccine.
Traditional preventive measures remain crucial, such as sleeping under treated bed nets, spraying rooms with insecticide and eliminating pools of stagnant water beloved by mosquitoes for breeding.
For the medics who see daily the impact of malaria on children, the vaccine is a big step forward.
Hopes for malaria-free Ghana
Ellen Apraku, a nurse, explained to waiting parents when to come back for the remaining injections.
She and her medical colleagues voiced hopes that the vaccine could one day replicate the success of the polio vaccine.
“I hope this will help us to be able to eliminate malaria, so Ghana can be a malaria-free country,” said Justice Arthur, the doctor running the Cape Coast clinic.
If the campaign is widened out, it will be a good starting point for child immunisation and a means for medics to help prevent the infection of parents too, the doctor said.
Sabina Atta also brought her six-month-old daughter, Susanna for vaccination.
“If we prevent it from the start, it will help,” she said.
Malaria killed 435,000 people worldwide in 2017, according to the WHO.
“Malaria is one of the oldest documented, most devastating maladies in our history,” said Owen Kaluwa, Ghana’s WHO chief.
“We, in Africa, bear the brunt of its toll.”
Malaria spreads to people by mosquitoes, which transfer the parasite while sucking blood from humans.
“The disease saps our productivity and prosperity,” Kaluwa said. “It keeps our people in poverty.”
Health minister issues Ebola threat alert in Tanzania
Tanzania’s northwestern Kagera, Mwanza and Kigoma regions are most at risk.
Tanzania’s health minister issued an Ebola ‘alert’ Sunday after the disease, which has killed over 1,400 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo, appeared in their shared neighbour, Uganda. “I want to alert the public that there is the threat of an Ebola epidemic in our country,” Ummy Mwalimu tweeted days after officials confirmed that members of a family who had travelled to the DRC had died in western Uganda.
The minister said the alert was necessary given the frequent interactions between Tanzanian and Ugandan people “via the official borders or by other, unofficial channels.” Tanzania’s northwestern Kagera, Mwanza and Kigoma regions were most at risk, said Mwalimu. But “given that this disease transmits very easily and very quickly from one person to another, nearly the entire country is in danger.”
The minister began a tour of the frontier regions on Saturday to assess the measures in place at ports and border posts to deal with potential incoming Ebola cases. The country has not yet been touched by the often fatal viral disease that causes violent vomiting and diarrhoea, impairs kidney and liver function, and sometimes internal and external bleeding.
Ebola spreads among humans through close contact with the blood, body fluids, secretions or organs of an infected person, or objects contaminated by such fluids. The current outbreak in the DRC is the worst on record after an epidemic that struck mainly in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone between 2014-2016, killing more than 11,300 people.
On Friday, the World Health Organization said the outbreak does not yet warrant being declared a “public health emergency of international concern”, meaning it would require a “coordinated international response”.The UN body declares public health emergencies when a disease outbreak in a country risks spreading beyond its borders.
Two members of a Ugandan family, a woman and her five-year-old grandson died of Ebola this week after travelling to the DRC to take care of a dying family member and attend the funeral. The boy’s brother, aged three, is also infected, and several family members are in isolation. To date, no locally-acquired Ebola cases have been reported in Uganda.
Semenya cleared by court to run 800m in Rabat
Organisers of the Diamond League had initially refused to allow Semenya to take part but on Friday they “confirmed her invitation”
Caster Semenya will run her specialist 800m distance at Rabat on Sunday, organisers said, after the South African two-time Olympic champion won the latest round of a bitter court battle over gender rules.
Semenya was cleared to take part in the Diamond League meeting after Switzerland’s top court rejected an IAAF request to re-impose rules obliging her to lower her testosterone before competing in certain events.
Organisers of the Morocco event had initially refused to allow the South African to take part but on Friday they “confirmed her invitation”.
“After checking the situation of Caster Semenya in the light of the decisions of the Swiss Federal Court, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the head of the international athletics meeting in Rabat, Alain Blondel, is happy to confirm the invitation,” said a statement on the event’s official site.
The Swiss federal court issued their order on Wednesday, explaining “this means that Caster remains permitted to compete without restriction in the female category at this time.”
The IAAF had earlier this month opposed a ruling by the court temporarily suspending the federation’s rules following an appeal by Semenya who won the women’s 800 metres at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics.
The athlete was contesting a decision by the Court of Arbitration for Sport which previously found the rules were “discriminatory” but “necessary” to ensure fairness in women’s athletics.
The rules require women with higher than normal male hormone levels, a condition known as hyperandrogenism, to artificially lower the amount of testosterone in their bodies if they are to compete in races over distances of 400m to the mile.
“No woman should be subjected to these rules,” Semenya said in a statement, adding she had “thought hard about not running the 800m in solidarity unless all women can run free. But I will run now to show the IAAF that they cannot drug us.”
The athlete also dismissed the IAAF’s claim that it is committed to the full participation of women in sport.
“I am a woman, but the IAAF has again tried to stop me from running the way I was born,” she said in the statement, pointing out the hormonal drugs she had been required to take to compete had made her feel “constantly sick and unable to focus for many years.”
“No other woman should be forced to go through this,” she said.
Public health officials employ “time-honoured” tactics to combat dengue in Ivory Coast
Two people have died and 130 have fallen ill since the fever returned to the country last month.
“Cover your goods,” Diakaria Fofana, a doctor of public health charged with combating dengue, warns food vendors as a thick cloud of insecticide spray wafts down a street in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s economic capital. Men in protective clothes, goggles and masks are disgorging plumes of mosquito-killing chemicals in a bid to roll back an outbreak of dengue.
Two people have died and 130 have fallen ill since the fever returned to the country last month. The toll, so far, is tiny compared with other tropical countries, especially in Southeast Asia, where the painful and sometimes deadly disease is an entrenched peril.
But tackling the outbreak is a major challenge for Ivory Coast, having to resort to time-honoured, labour-intensive methods of spraying and neighbourhood awareness campaigns to prevent its spread. Female mosquitoes carrying the dengue virus transfer the pathogen when they tuck into a blood meal from someone.
A vaccine does exist, but is not available in Ivory Coast because “it has many secondary effects (and) it’s expensive”, explained Joseph Vroh Benie Bi, director of the National Institute for Public Hygiene (INHP). Developed by French pharmaceutical group Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccine is recommended for use in people aged nine and older, and only for individuals who have already been infected.
Usually accompanied by flu-like symptoms, dengue makes some people very sick indeed, developing into a haemorrhagic fever that can cause difficulty breathing, heavy bleeding or even organ failure. While the first bout of dengue is rarely fatal, subsequent infections are usually worse.
Fighting the mosquitoes equals combating dengue
The UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) says there are up to 100 million cases of dengue worldwide every year, and almost half the world’s population lives in countries where the disease is endemic. It kills more than 20,000 people each year. Southeast Asia and the Western Pacific are the worst-hit areas.
There is no cure and the WHO recommends that patients take paracetamol, rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Five new vaccines are in development, but in the meantime, Fofana says: “The only effective means of fighting (dengue) is fighting the mosquito.”
In Ivory Coast, most recorded cases have occurred in Abidjan. Health workers are striving to enlist the public in tackling the mosquito, targeting its life cycle. “The larvae multiply in stagnant water, for example inside used tyres,” said Fofana, deputy director of the vector control unit at the INHP.
“People should never store water in buckets in the open air and they should regularly throw out the water in plates under houseplants.” But he faces an uphill job in a sprawling port city of 4.4 million people in the middle of the rainy season.
What’s more, people who are infected, even without knowing it, and can bring the virus to new areas when they are bitten by local mosquitoes. The WHO has set a goal to halve the number of dengue deaths by 2020, but, the incidence of the disease has increased 30-fold in the last 50 years.
“Before 1970, only nine countries had experienced severe dengue epidemics. The disease is now endemic in more than 100 countries,” it says.
Dengue – Malaria’s big brother
In Ivory Coast, where malaria accounts for a third of all medical consultations, many people self-medicate when they experience symptoms such as high fever, vomiting, nausea or aches and pains. “This is a real problem, because the symptoms of malaria, dengue, typhus and yellow fever are similar. Doing a blood test is absolutely indispensable,” said Fofana.
Treatment with the wrong medicines can worsen the situation, he stressed – aspirin or ibuprofen can increase the risk of bleeding, for example. In the meantime, the spraying goes on.
“We know the risks,” said Bamba Segbe, an Abidjan resident watching the masked men in action. “It’s not for nothing that we call dengue malaria’s big brother.”
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