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Malaria on the Rise in South Sudan

Despite the hard work of NGOs and other nonprofits in the area, South Sudan is currently reporting 1.6 million cases of malaria. Aweil, a rural area in the northwest corner of the country, has been hit the hardest, according to recent reports.

Organizations like Chris Flowers’s J.C. Flowers Foundation have made progress—saving 736,700 lives and investing $13 billion into treatment and prevention techniques—but the problem continues to be dire for the locals.

The only major hospital in Aweil is also a base for the United Nations in South Sudan, as well as an operation hub for several other aid agencies—largely Doctors Without Borders. In conjunction with the Ministry of Health, Doctors Without Borders serves about 1.2 million people. The hospital is also the only functioning public hospital blood bank in the entire state of Northern Bahr el Ghazar.

Malaria is the leading cause of death and illness in the area, and the current outbreak is the worst ever seen. Nearly 1.6 million malaria cases have been reported so far, with the number of cases in most areas doubling since last year.

“Usually around December we would be reaching the end of the malaria season,” said Claire Nicolet, Project Manager for Doctors Without Borders in Aweil, “but we are still treating around 130 patients a week who have severe malaria.”

Two of the biggest problems are severely limited supplies and the prohibitive cost of prescriptions for patients. When malaria is first diagnosed, the patient is generally advised to get medication from a pharmacy in town. But the medication costs 25 South Sudanese pounds (about $1.25 American dollars)—more than most can afford. So the patient generally goes home and waits for the disease to become more extreme, at which point the need for medication becomes even more dire.

As if the malaria situation weren’t bad enough, South Sudan is also suffering from cholera outbreaks, food shortages for about 80% of the population, and the consequences of a two-year civil war.

Still, organizations like Doctors Without Borders and the JC Flowers Foundation are bringing hope to this troubled area—even if their work is far from done.

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Further Malaria Studies Needed Before Approval

Ongoing global efforts to tackle the deadly malaria disease have taken a positive turn as a vaccine is one step closer to reality.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) and the Malaria Policy Advisory Committee (MPAC) announced that the RTS,S malaria vaccine (also known as Mosquirix) will be further tested through a series of experimental studies before it can be recommended for general use.

Announced back in July, the vaccine was finally been given the green light by a regulatory agency (the European Medicines Agency) with a “positive scientific opinion.” The agency’s approval came after considering the drug’s quality, safety, and effectiveness.

Developed by a team managed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Mosquirix is intended for use by babies and toddlers, targeting the Plasmodium falciparum parasite, known to be the leading cause of malaria deaths. The vaccine triggers the body’s immune system to protect against the parasite when it first enters its human host’s bloodstream, in addition to when the parasite infects the liver. It’s intended to prevent the parasite from contaminating, growing, and multiplying in the liver, where it can cause malaria by re-entering the bloodstream and infecting red blood cells.

Malaria kills approximately 1,300 children every day in sub-Saharan Africa, and there are currently no approved vaccines. There are many charitable groups that support anti-malaria initiatives, such as the JC Flowers Foundation. Founded by J. Christopher Flowers of the financial services company J.C. Flowers & Co., the organization has worked with malaria prevention initiatives since launching NetsforLife in 2004.

With over 15,000 infants and children involved across seven African countries, the vaccine trial delivered a qualified success. For long-term protection, the vaccine must be dispensed four times – a quick succession of three doses followed by a booster 18 months later. It was found that the vaccine offered significant long-term protection in children aged 5-17 months, but not in younger infants (6-12 weeks).

“The question about how the malaria vaccine may best be delivered still needs to be answered,” noted Professor Jon S. Abramson, chair of SAGE.

As next steps, the WHO’s strategic advisory group of experts recommends that Mosquirix be tested in three to five large scale pilot projects involving up to a million children to see if the unusual four-dose vaccination schedule can be included into existing routines.

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The Fight Against Malaria in Africa

Malaria continues to be a huge problem in Africa, as well as other places across the world where access to medical help and information are not always readily available. Though some progress has been made in treating and cutting down the number of cases, malaria has yet to be eradicated.

However, many organizations around the world are fighting hard to provide African communities with the information and support they need.

The Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Elimination Initiative

The Isdell:Flowers Initiative is the brainchild of the J.C. Flowers Foundation, the philanthropic arm of financial services giant J.C. Flowers & Co. The Initiative focuses on an area called the “last mile,” the cross-border region that includes Namibia, Angola, Zambia, and Zimbabwe where the population is mobile and difficult to reach. Because people living in this area travel a lot, they often spread malaria without meaning to, and they don’t have the education or resources to take precautionary steps.

That’s where the Isdell:Flowers Initiative comes in. Their work focuses on things like net distribution (to prevent malaria-infected mosquito bites), training villagers to treat and prevent the disease, and providing the equipment for rapid testing. The Initiative also performs extensive research and data analysis.

The Global Health Group

Launched in 2007, the Global Health Group’s Malaria Elimination Initiative pursues “achievable and evidence-based elimination goals.” By partnering with researchers, implementers, and advocates, Group Health conducts research and develops new tools to help eliminate malaria. To date they’ve published important reports and peer-reviewed papers; organized relief efforts in both Asia and Africa; partnered to provide sustainable, domestic financing and resource mobilization; and greatly influenced policy-makers with organizations like the Malaria Elimination Group, an international scientific community that serves as an advisory board to 35 countries fighting malaria.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

The Gates Foundation has its fingers a lot of philanthropic pies, and the fight against malaria is no exception. Noting that malaria occurs in 100 countries across the world and exists as both a social and economic burden, the Gates Foundation oversees programs that help address malaria as a treatable and preventable disease. Their multi-year malaria strategy, Accelerate to Zero, was adopted in 2013 and continues to coordinate with partners in taking steps to eradicate malaria. Because the Foundation is well funded and uniquely positioned across the world, they are able to support initiatives and take risks in a way other, smaller organizations can’t.

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Top Malaria Prevention Initiatives

Malaria is a major health issue for nearly half of the world’s population, and especially for those living in the poorest parts of the world. Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease that is particularly endemic in Sub-Saharan regions in Africa. There are many people involved in the fight against malaria, including scientists that work on different ways to combat the spread of malaria and that look for a cure, as well as philanthropists and charitable organizations that donate their time and money to help those in need.

Before we dive in, we’d like to share some surprising statistics about malaria in Africa, and around the world:

  • Every 45 seconds, a child in Africa dies from malaria.
  • Each year, malaria infects over 200 million people, killing nearly one million of them.
  • Malaria alone costs the African continent $12 billion a year in economic loss.

There are many charitable organizations that support anti-malaria initiatives, like the JC Flowers Foundation. The JC Flowers Foundation, founded by J. Christopher Flowers, has worked extensively with malaria prevention initiatives since launching NetsforLife in 2004.

NetsforLife, as well as other similar initiatives like NothingButNets, allow you to help combat malaria by sending sleeping nets to countries in need. People in these areas will sleep beneath these mosquito nets, protecting in their sleep from mosquitos that might bite them and thereby spread malaria.

NothingButNets was created by the UN Foundation and is a global, grassroots campaign to raise awareness and funding to combat malaria. This initiative gained worldwide attention in 2006 when Rick Reilly’s Sports Illustrated column about malaria challenged each reader to donate $10 for the purchase of anti-malaria bed nets. NothingButNets has adopted the $10 pledge, and used it as a baseline ever since.

There are also many other malaria initiatives around the world, including the Malaria Vaccine Initiative, ACTMalaria, Medicines for Malaria Venture, the Roll Back Malaria Partnership, and many others. For more information about global Malaria initiatives, check out this comprehensive infographic list from the Malaria Foundation International.

If you want to join the fight against Malaria, helping any one of the organizations described in this article will make a difference!