Tuesday, December 28, 2010
I love it when science does things like this. There are millions of people that just don't see any hope, and most are doomed to die young, or lead horribly crippled lives. No one seems to care, and pretty much any other segment of humanity has nothing for them. And then there is science! And the thing is, with our understanding of evolution, these sort of advances are actually possible. If we didn't use evolution as a bedrock of biology, none of this would be possible.
Published: December 4, 2010
JOHANNESBURG — For over a century, epidemics of bacterial meningitis have swept across Africa, arriving with the dry harmattan winds to kill with terrifying speed. But on Monday, a drive starts to inoculate tens of millions of West Africans with a new vaccine in what scientists hope will be the beginning of the end of ravaging meningitis epidemics.
The aim is for these immunization campaigns to spread from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia in the east, bringing the disease under control and saving an estimated 150,000 lives by 2015 in a belt of 25 nations that girds the continent.
Hundreds of millions of dollars are still needed to accomplish that goal, public health officials say. But the meningitis vaccine itself is a milestone in developing inexpensive vaccines against neglected diseases that afflict poor countries, experts say.
More than a million cases of meningitis have been reported in Africa over the past two decades, and the vaccine works against the group A meningitis strain that causes more than 8 out of 10 cases on the continent. Moreover, it costs less than 50 cents a dose. In the United States, Novartis and Sanofi Pasteur market a single dose of meningitis vaccines against multiple strains of the disease for $80 to $100.
“Wow, that’s remarkable!” exclaimed Dr. Gregory A. Poland, head of vaccine research at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, when he heard how little the new vaccine would cost.
Bill Gates, whose foundation largely financed the endeavor, contrasted the undertaking with the development of vaccines for measles, smallpox and polio.
“All those things were created because rich people got sick,” he said in an interview. “This is the first vaccine that went through the whole process where there was no rich world market, and it had to be optimized at a very low price.”
The meningitis vaccine relies on a technology that was devised by researchers at the Food and Drug Administration and donated by the United States government at the cost of only token royalties. It is being manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, a major vaccine producer, and it was developed independently of the major American and European pharmaceutical companies.