It will take a decade before a vaccine against malaria, described as one of the greatest causes of misery in endemic countries, is developed, according to Dr Regina Rabinovich, director of the Malaria Vaccine Initiative.
With between three and five million cases per year and three deaths every minute (mostly children), the need for a malaria vaccine is as urgent as one to prevent HIV infection.
Speaking at the “Financing Vaccination for every child” conference in Cape Town last week, Rabinovich said that so far three vaccine candidates in the early stages of development have protected people from malaria, but that the money invested in developing vaccines was not enough.
Vaccines account for less than two percent of the lucrative pharmaceutical market.
The Malaria Vaccine Initiative’s main role is to accelerate the development of a vaccine.
Six clinical trials are poised to start next year, three being in Africa.
Rabinovich said it was a battle as other global health priorities had been placed on the backburner in the face of the threat posed by bio-terrorism.
Another vaccine that is much closer to development is the rotavirus vaccine that will go a long way towards preventing one of the silent killers in Africa, diarrhoea.
Professor Duncan Steele of the Medical Pathogens Unit at the Medical University of Southern Africa, said there were between 110 000 and 155 000 rotavirus related deaths per year in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In South Africa it is estimated that between 10 and 15 people die per day of a rotavirus related death, while in the United States the figure is closer to between 20 and 40 deaths per year.
Despite the fact that a rotavirus vaccine was identified as crucial as far back as 1985, the vaccine is now only in its final stages of development.
Steele said a vaccine should be available in the next two to three years, but that the challenge was to get it to the developing world as rapidly as possible, a process that has taken up to 15 years in the past.