New Malaria Vaccine Offers Promise for Future
New York/Nashville, Oct. 19, 2007—The chief executives of two United Methodist agencies have welcomed with cautious optimism report of the safe use of a vaccine that reduced malaria infection among infants in Mozambique.
Bishop Felton E. May, interim general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, and the Rev. Larry Hollon, general secretary of United Methodist Communications, issued a joint statement in response to news reports that the vaccine had passed another stage in the long process of testing.
Both May and Hollon took part October 16-18 in the Bill and Melinda Gates Malaria Forum, a high level meeting involving a broad cross-section of leaders and scientists involved in the fight against malaria. During the forum, Bill and Melinda Gates issued a global challenge to eradicate malaria.
The General Board of Global Ministries, United Methodist Communications, General Board of Church and Society, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, and other church agencies are partners in a new Global Health Initiative that has marked for eradication malaria, AIDS, and other preventable diseases. Malaria kills a million people per year, mostly young children. “This is a long-term vision, not a sprint, and it will require the best efforts of all us working together,” said the joint May-Hollon statement.
The study done in Mozambique, reported in The Lancet, a British medical journal, showed that a vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline PLC and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative was safe for use in infants. It reduced incidents of malaria infection by 65 percent in a group of 214 infants, some of whom received the anti-malaria vaccine and the others a vaccine for hepatitis B.
Bishop May and Rev. Hollon noted that while the test group was small and the study’s objective limited to safety question the vaccine’s “possibilities are encouraging.”
In reflecting on the Gates Forum, Bishop May said: “Science can make major contributions to the eradication of malaria, but education is also essential and, in many cases, so is the building of strong spiritual and economic communities that can overcome the poverty that breeds diseases. The General Board of Global Ministries will be expanding its mission in community development and training more community-based health practitioners. We are recruiting new global health missionaries as well as promoting individual and team health volunteers. We also anticipate more microenterprise programs to improve family economic conditions.”
Hollon said of The Lancet article, “This news makes clear we need a multi-pronged attack on this disease because no single approach will prevent the suffering and death it causes. Families in malaria-prone regions need bed nets, effective medications to treat the disease, stronger national health systems to provide services, community-based health workers to provide care, and education about preventive measures to reduce breeding areas for mosquitoes. People of good will in the world who can provide resources need information and opportunities to respond and get actively engaged. We need to advocate for continued funding for research, education, treatment and distribution of nets and medications.”
The United Methodist Church is deeply involved in fighting malaria around the world:
Making Malaria History, the United Methodist malaria initiative, incorporates prevention through the effective use of mosquito nets and other means, as well as community-based anti-malaria measures, including the training of health practitioners and education on ways to clean up mosquito-breeding areas. The Community-based Malaria Prevention Programs currently operates in seven African countries.
Nothing But Nets, a collaborative effort with the United Nations Foundation, Sports Illustrated, NBA Cares and others has so far raised more than $16 million for the purchase of insecticide treated mosquito nets in Africa.
The full text of the joint statement follows:
We welcome with cautious optimism reports of the safe use of a vaccine that reduced malaria infection among infants in Mozambique. While the test group was small and the objective limited to verification of the vaccine’s safety among very young children, the possibilities for the future are encouraging as we combat a major and preventable health scourge. The mosquito-borne disease kills one million people annually, the majority of them children and a large percentage in Africa. Incidents of malaria were reduced by 65 percent in the closely controlled study involving 214 Mozambican infants. The vaccine tested was developed by GlaxoSmithKline PLC and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative.
It is perhaps not coincidental that the study’s outcome were published in The Lancet, a respected British medical journal, during the course of a major global summit on malaria being held in Seattle under the sponsorship of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Both of us were honored to take part in the event. Invitations to participate recognized the commitment of The United Methodist Church to the eradication of malaria and other preventable diseases. Our respective agencies, the General Board of Global Ministries and United Methodist Communications, are partners in an emerging United Methodist global health initiative that includes a strong emphasis on a multi-faceted counterattack on malaria and other preventable diseases.
The Forum made clear that no single agency, no matter how large, can defeat this disease along. Malaria, as one of the diseases of poverty, will require the collaborative efforts of many different organizations. The people of The United Methodist Church can play a significant role in partnership with others to end suffering and death globally.
The elimination of malaria and its preventable partners—AIDS and tuberculosis—is not altogether a matter of nets, medicine, and community health awareness. We must address the interconnection of this disease with poverty, HIV/AIDS, the need to strengthen national health systems, provide training for community-based health workers, put in place communications infrastructure to get information to people so they can use it to improve the quality of their lives and protect themselves and their children from the deadly effects of poverty and disease. It will require sustained education and advocacy for resources and policies to end poverty.
This is a long-term vision, not a sprint, and it will require the best efforts of all us working together. But, in the end, we must remember one child dies every thirty seconds and more than 300 million people are sickened by this disease every year, all of it preventable. This is a global movement toward life.
We urge all United Methodists to join in “making malaria history” through contributions to the church anti-malaria program, prayer for continuing progress toward a broadly effective vaccine, and by working in the spirit of our Methodist founder, John Wesley, in the larger cause of eliminating poverty.