Inflammation and stories on vaccines

Philanthropist and Microsoft Co-Founder Bill Gates has been focusing much of his attention on developing and delivering a cure for malaria in impoverished areas of the world. Other tech-gurus have also recently turned their eyes into using their abilities to fight a greater cause – delivering Internet connectivity to these remote and poverty-stricken regions. While Gates obviously believes that it is important to help these disconnected nations engage with the developed world, he told the Financial Times that he finds this priority to be, in fact, a “joke.”

“I certainly love the (information technology) thing,” said Gates, “but when we want to improve lives, you’ve got to deal with more basic things like child survival, child nutrition.” And of course, Gates indeed has a good point. Perhaps connecting the world through technology is important, but is it as important as ridding the world of malaria and other diseases? Should the talents of others be wasted on connectivity and not on health and wellness?

Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook, is one of those who is looking to make the internet available to billions from all corners of the world. He believes that the next wave of connectivity will be driven by mobile broadband networks sending densely compressed data delivered by extremely efficient servers. Furthermore, Google’s Project Loon seeks to bring broadband to developing countries by floating transmitters on balloons.

“Take this malaria vaccine, (this) weird thing that I’m thinking of. Hmm, which is more important, connectivity or malaria vaccine? If you think connectivity is the key thing, that’s great. I don’t,” said Gates.

Gates has not been shy about his disapproval for the priority being placed on such programs. Moreover, he continues to try to help the world in his own way, the way he believes to be truly important. Founded in 1997, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation works to alleviate extreme poverty and health crises in developing countries. It seems that Bill is indeed taking this goal to heart.

– Sonia Aviv

  Sources: RedOrbit, The Huffington Post, Business Insider

In an interview with CBS’ Charlie Rose, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates discussed the importance of innovation in agriculture. At first, Rose and Gates discussed Gates’ annual letter, including a call to the United States and other developed countries to further agricultural research. However, the conversation took an unexpected turn to a related topic that Gates finds fascinating: fertilizer.

Developing nations continue to face food shortages due to many causes, including climate change. Demand for food is constantly rising and the price of food is increasing as a result. Gates believes that the problems surrounding food-production goals can be alleviated if more investment is made in agricultural research, which includes research in fertilizer.

Fertilizers improve the growth of plants, and are made up of substances consisting of chemical elements such as manure. Fertilizers provide crops with the essential nutrients they need to fight off pests, disease, and the elements. However, insects and disease are only one issue that affects crops. Another major concern for crop sustainability is soil condition, which is drastically affected by changing weather. Fertilizers enhance the soil by allowing the soil to hold more water and nutrients, where forces like rain and wind would usually create unstable soil not suitable for sustained growth.

It appears that Gates’ fascination with fertilizer has developed since his interview with Charlie Rose. On November 12, 2013, Gates wrote an essay that appeared on saying, “I am a little obsessed with fertilizer. I mean I’m fascinated with its role, not with using it.” Fertilizer plays an important role in the lives of people all over the world. Specifically, 40% of the world benefits from crop output that fertilizer has made possible. Gates compares the innovative development of fertilizer to the creation of synthetic ammonia and polio vaccines.

One of the ways that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has advanced research in fertilizer is through supporting a joint project by the Swiss Aquatic Research Institute and the South African Water Utility. The project involves developing urine from conventional sewer-based sanitation and central wastewater treatment systems as a commercial fertilizer and is set to be complete by 2014.

– Daren Gottlieb
Sources: EAWAG, Wired, Southwest Farm Press, The Green Book
Photo: BBC

Asian baby
The Millennium Development Goals (MDG) of the United Nations and its partners consist of eight goals. Goal number four, Reduce Child Mortality Rates by 2015, has seen some success in the past decade. Children in impoverished countries die every year from things that can easily be prevented by means of vaccination, having mosquito nets, being properly nourished or receiving visits from health care professionals, to name just a few.

For instance, Cambodia has created support groups for breastfeeding mothers. These support groups teach women the importance of exclusive and immediate breastfeeding when the infant is born.  Such groups also teach mothers the negative effects that rise from giving infants contaminated water. Having access to these groups and teaching practices have dramatically reduced child mortality rates in the region.  Breastfeeding is one of the most cost effective things women from poverty stricken countries can do to keep babies nourished through infancy. Cost effective programs like ones in Cambodia have proven effective at reducing child mortality.

In Egypt, 97% of infants and children are immunized against six deadly diseases, which through diarrhea and other sicknesses, cause 40% of deaths among children.  Unfortunately, malnutrition is still a steady problem and children continue to die.

In the last decade malaria mortality rates have seen a 25% reduction globally. However, even with this reduction a child dies every minute from the disease. The distribution and aid for insecticidal mosquito nets is a must in reducing child mortality.

Children with access to health care professionals are usually given a better chance at survival. As an example, Ethiopia has reduced its child mortality rate with this practice.

There are several successes to show the efforts of MDGs. However, there is still a long way to go in order to reach the 2015 deadline. In 2012, alone, 6.6 million children died from these preventable illnesses and many others. Furthermore, most of these children came from developing countries.  Such numbers of deaths should not be acceptable, instead, zero should to be the number attached to child mortality. Aid from many wealthy governments will go a long way in ending the suffering that these 6 million children partake in every year across the globe.

– Amy Robinson

Sources: UNICEF, Child Info
Photo: Foto Stamina

According to the World Health Organization, a new multi-action vaccine will now help protect Haitian Children from at least five diseases and thereby lowering the high child mortality rates. The main causes of the high child mortality rate include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Diarrheal diseases
  • Anemia
  • Chronic malnutrition

As explained by the National Library of Medicine, the new “five-in-one vaccine” will help protect children from contracting the following diseases:

  • Diphtheria: a serious bacterial infection which affects the respiratory system, it is airborne and highly contagious.
  • Tetanus: an infection of the nervous system with the potentially deadly bacteria Clostridium tetani (C. tetani.)
  • Whooping cough:  a highly contagious bacterial disease that causes uncontrollable and violent coughing that often makes it hard to breathe.
  • Hepatitis B: irritation and swelling (inflammation) of the liver due to infection with the hepatitis B virus (HBV.)
  • Haemophilus Influenzae: a type of hepatitis that causes pneumonia and meningitis.

According to a young Haitian father, Jean Pierre, the vaccine will help save his daughter’s life. He has stated that he is willing to go through vaccination in order to “protect his daughter against diseases that can endanger her life; vaccination helps prevent diseases in children, especially because they play everywhere and often get sick.” As a result, The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), the WHO’s Regional Office for the Americas, has been working with Haiti’s Ministry of Health and Population to “integrate the new vaccine into the national immunization program.”

In addition, The Ministry has been working on administering the vaccine to a specific amount of children. According to the WHO, “The Ministry’s goal is to administer three doses of the vaccine to 288 000 children under 1 year old.” To achieve the Ministry’s goal, the WHO has prepared a team of 12 Cuban and Dominican Republic trained Haitian doctors to train health workers to use the five-in-one preventative vaccine throughout the country’s 10 departments.

– Stephanie Olaya

Sources: World Health Organization: the Pentavalent Vaccine, U.S. National Library of Medicine, World Health Organization: PAHO
Photo: Global Giving


Oct. 24 marked World Polio Day, an annual reminder that the fight to eradicate the virus is not yet over. In fact, according the World Health Organization (WHO), children are still at risk, especially those living in the Horn of Africa, where an outbreak has been recently confirmed. There have also been reports of cases in Syria.

According to an article by the United Nations News Centre, the WHO issued a statement for the day, saying that “this is no time for complacency, and efforts must be redoubled to ensure this disease is eradicated once and for all. World Polio Day marks the perfect opportunity to remind us of this fact.”

Although there is no cure for polio, on Oct. 24, 1955, virologist Jonas Salk made his mark on history by leading the first team to create the polio vaccine, which is designed to prevent the disease. Along with the creation of oral polio medication, developed by Albert Sabin, these two medicines have been used to decrease polio cases around the world by 99 percent with the help of the Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI), established in 1988. Transmitted through the mouth via the consumption of contaminated food or water, the disease mostly affects children that are five years old and younger, causing irreversible paralysis.

2012 saw the transmission of the poliovirus to numerous countries, such as Nigeria, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. However, since October of last year, they have all succeeded in decreasing the number of polio cases by 40 percent. According to the WHO, the world is currently experiencing the lowest amount of poliovirus cases in history – but the organization has also declared the eradication of polio an emergency for global public health. This feat has created a sense of urgency within the international community to eradicate the virus once and for all.

In April, the GPEI unveiled a new six-year plan, the first of its kind dedicated to the eradication of polio. World leaders and individual donors pledged about three-quarters of the pan’s estimated budget of US$5.5 billion over the next six years. The UN Security Council has gotten involved in the mission to stop the spread of the disease as it called on the government of Sudan to lead a polio vaccine campaign in November, which would benefit children living in Sudan’s southern provinces that have been recently affected by the threat and outbreak of the virus.

– Elisha-Kim Desmangles
Feature Writer

Sources: UN News Centre, UN News Centre, WHO, GPEI, GPEI
Photo: Miami Herald

Rotavirus is a virus that inflames the stomach and intestines. Its main side effects are diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain. In children, it can lead to severe dehydration, and if left untreated, death. Before a vaccine was regularly administered to children starting in 2006, rotavirus was the cause of many hospital and emergency room visits.

Globally, rotavirus is responsible for about half a million deaths in children under the age of five. In areas without good sanitation, healthcare, and health education, the spread of such diseases and the lack of treatment are likely the reason the virus is still claiming so many young lives.

In India, rotavirus claims 100,000 lives every year. India’s Department of Biotechnology and the company Bharat Biotech have developed a new vaccine called RotaVac that effectively prevents the diarrhea, one of the strongest symptoms of rotavirus. If administered to children all over India, especially to those from low-to no-income families, it would prevent a viral infection that would otherwise have devastating results.

The group of researchers who developed the vaccine consisted of scientists from all over the world. Phase III of the clinical trial took place in three different locations in India. Not only did it prove effective, but Bharat Biotech has priced the vaccine at $1 USD, which is relatively affordable.

Along with the usual vaccines, it would be administered at 6, 10, and 14 weeks of age. Awareness and taking preventive steps are two very effective ways to combat diseases such as this, especially in areas with lackluster healthcare.

– Aalekhya Malladi

Sources: Defeat DD, CDV
Photo: GAVI Alliance

The international HOOKVAC consortium, led by the Academic Medical Center at the University of Amsterdam and including partners from the United States, European Union and Africa, has been awarded a grant of six million Euros to expand the Sabin Vaccine Institute Product Development Partnership’s work to develop and assess a vaccine for human hookworm. This disease currently affects 600-700 million of the world’s poorest people, and under this grant, clinical testing for the vaccine in the West African nation of Gabon will begin.

A hookworm vaccine has the potential to dramatically improve the health, economic and social conditions in countries that are highly burdened by the disease. Despite the amount of people that it affects, hookworm has been a consistently neglected disease, disregarded by people in developed Western nations.

The Sabin Vaccine Institute PDP works with worldwide partners to develop new, low-cost vaccines that have essentially no commercial market for diseases that predominantly affect the developing world. Established in 2000, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, it is the only product development partnership in the world that targets and devotes resources toward targeting the human hookworm vaccination.

A successful vaccine would ease the suffering of over half a billion affected people. The hookworm disease primarily infects people who live below the global poverty line, specifically children and pregnant mothers in Southeast Asia, Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa. If left untreated, the disease causes internal blood loss, leading to iron-deficiency anemia, malnutrition, physical and cognitive impairment and low birth rates.

“The European Commission is proud to support the critical work of the consortium for the development of a human hookworm vaccine,” Ruxandra Draghia-Akli, MD, PhD, Director of the Health Directorate at the Research DG of the European Commission, said. “Ultimately, we hope that the knowledge, innovations and research expertise resulting from this global collaboration will accelerate the development of the world’s first, effective hookworm vaccine and encourage additional European SME partnerships to explore vaccines for NTDs (Neglected Tropical Diseases).”

The progress being made toward the hookworm vaccine represents a battle won for many poorer countries that come face to face with diseases that are often neglected and overlooked by the developed world. There is a bright future for further developments towards the aid for other neglected diseases, giving poverty-stricken countries and our world a chance at global health.

– Sonia Aviv 

Sources: BIO NEWS Texas, Sabin Vaccine Institute, NEWS Kenya
Photo: Africa Time

One of the worst diseases in the twentieth century, the polio virus affected an estimated 350,000 people when the vaccine was first introduced in 1955. Since that time, the victims of the disease have diminished. There were only 1,352 cases reported in 2010, and the disease remains in only three countries across the globe as of 2012: Afghanistan, Nigeria and Pakistan.

Although few people are affected by the virus today, a condition known as post-polio syndrome (PPS) can develop in survivors of polio years after they have suffered from the disease. With almost a million survivors of polio in the U.S. alone, the development of PPS has quickly become an incident worth researching. Currently, no cure for the disease exists, and there is little to no medical or governmental focus on the disease.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has estimated that there are 10 to 20 million survivors of the polio virus worldwide with approximately 40 percent of survivors develop PPS. That’s 4 to 8 million people suffering from a disease that has no cure and little attention. Symptoms of PPS include muscle atrophy, loss of motor skills and general fatigue. It can become life threatening if a victim’s respiratory muscles begin to weaken which can affect breathing, sleeping, and the ability to work. Those with PPS who depend on physical labor for survival can be seriously affected economically.

Christopher P. Howson, PhD, director of Global Programs for the March of Dimes said, “In developing countries, where polio outbreaks still occur or have ended much more recently, medical systems will be facing PPS for decades into the future and have little knowledge or understanding of it. Even in advanced countries, and this includes the United States, many doctors are not trained to recognize PPS or are reluctant to treat it as a new condition.”

The limited knowledge that doctors across the globe have about PPS furthers the struggle to fight it. The March of Dimes and other polio-fighting advocacy groups have begun a campaign to try to increase medical and political communities’ involvement in diagnosing, treating and, one day, curing post-polio syndrome.

Alessandra Wike

Sources: March of Dimes, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Photo: Epharmapedia

In a given year, USAID immunization programs have been able to save over 3 million lives. The potency of a single injection in preventing life threatening diseases like measles, malaria, hepatitis, and others has been proven time and time again. Yet, with such benefits come some seemingly unavoidable costs, particularly the spread of infection caused by reusing syringes.

That is where Uniject comes to the fore. The product of a 20-year-long effort, Uniject has already been widely embraced as a mechanism of safeguarding the lives of this and coming generations. With funding from the United Agency for International Aid and Development (USAID), PATH, a Seattle based non-profit organization working to better global health through innovation, has developed the innovative “Uniject autodisable injection system.” From contraceptives to vaccines, Uniject has made medicine safer and more accessible to millions. It takes the medicines that save lives and then apportions them into individual sized packages, each carrying the medicine that could save one life.

The genius of this model lies in its one-time use. Indeed, reusing syringes has posed a serious threat in the global fight against preventable disease. In 2009, 20 million immunizations were given using syringes contaminated with the blood of HIV-infected patients. In the developing world, the average person receives an unsafe injection such as this about once a year—with grave consequences. Research has shown that reusing a syringe, even indirectly, can spread HIV from one patient to four others.

Autodisable systems, like Uniject, have done a great deal in alleviating this dilemma. In 2010, the use of autodisable syringes brought down the average hospital stay in Tanzania from seven days to three days. Similar results have been achieved across the developing world where Uniject has been distributed. Learn more at

– Lina Saud

Sources: PATH, Safe Point Trust, The Borgen Project

A team of international researchers has recently developed a new vaccine that demonstrates great progress made in the fight against malaria. The vaccine effectively protects against multiple strains of the deadly disease, creating better protection for the immunized.

The investigators have not yet started trials of the newly developed vaccine in humans, but research on how the vaccine works in the red blood cells of mice is promising. Vaccinated mice that were exposed to malaria showed low levels of parasites in their blood. Researchers even say that the vaccine was so effective that “some of the mice had so few parasites that we were unable to see them when we looked at the blood under a microscope.”

The investigators also found that their vaccine was effective in protecting against malaria regardless of the specific strain of the disease that the mice were exposed to. They stated that, “even though mice were immunized with only one strain of malaria and infected with a different strain, they were also protected by our vaccine. That means that our vaccine protects against all strains of malaria.”

The new vaccine was developed after researchers considered modifying the way that previous malaria vaccines were made. In previous research, investigators used low doses of the dead parasite in vaccines, which proved effective in protecting against malaria. In development of the new vaccine, researchers decided to use whole parasites to immunize against the disease. To produce the vaccine, the malaria parasite is treated with a drug that “binds to the parasite’s DNA and prevents it from multiplying.” After immunization, the vaccine works by turning on an immune response in white blood cells, which can recognize proteins hidden in the malaria parasite. Researchers believe that immune recognition of hidden proteins in the various strains of malaria may be what is making the vaccine effective across all strains of the disease.

Each year, malaria infects nearly 250 million people across the globe and is responsible for one million deaths. The developers of the new vaccine hope that their new findings will help reduce the suffering that is caused by the disease in the future. In the next few months, the team will begin trial testing of their vaccine in humans. If the vaccine proves to be as effective as anticipated, use of the vaccine will be expanded to areas where malaria is present.

– Jordan Kline

Sources: The Conversation, Journal of Clinical Investigation