First Malaria Vaccine
Malaria is a parasitic virus transmitted through mosquito bites, and those infected with the disease often experience grave fevers, chills and flu-like symptoms. Although malaria can potentially end in death, physical precautions such as safety nets in malaria-dense environments and prompt treatment can usually prevent it. Unfortunately, because malaria largely affects poorer nations, it can be a great strain on national economies and impoverished populations. The World Health Organization is enlisting pilot testing for the first malaria vaccine.

The Problem

Malaria reportedly infects tens of millions, killing over 400,000 people worldwide every year and mostly children; Sub-Saharan African countries are the primary nations in which malaria thrives—the World Health Organization estimates that over 250,000 African children die every year from the virus.

The malaria-carrying parasite is able to evade victims’ immune systems by constantly changing its surface, which is why developing a vaccine against the virus has been so difficult. With today’s modern technology and scientific insight, that is beginning to change.

Testing the First Malaria Vaccine

In April of 2019, a large-scale pilot test of what many are dubbing the world’s first malaria vaccine to give partial protection to children began in Malawi. Scientists from the drug company GSK first created the RTS,S vaccine in 1987 and has been refining it ever since. Organizations like Path Malaria Vaccine Initiative have been instrumental in supporting this initiative.

The new RTS,S vaccine is attempting to teach the immune system how to attack the malaria parasite. A patient needs to receive the vaccine four times—once a month for three months, followed by a fourth and final dose 18 months later. In 2009, Kenya held smaller trials of the vaccine and concluded with a 40 percent protection rate of the five to-17 month-olds who received the vaccination. Since then, malaria rates have plateaued rather than decreased, which is another reason the new pilot test is so vital in the modern-day.

Now testing is taking place in Malawi, Kenya and Ghana with aims to immunize 120,000 children aged two-years-old and younger. These three countries are ideal for two reasons: one, these nations already have large anti-malaria programs in place; and two, in spite of this, they still have high numbers of malaria cases. As Dr. Matshidiso Moeti (World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa) stated, “Malaria is a constant threat to the African communities where this vaccine will be given” and explains that the vaccine is needed because “we know the power of vaccines to prevent killer diseases and [hope to] reach children, including those who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes.”

Looking Towards the Future

The purpose of the pilot tests is to build up evidence that can be reliably considered while WHO policy is debating its recommendations on the broader use of the RTS,S vaccine. The experiment will examine the reductions (if any) in child deaths, vaccine uptake rates (including how many children receive all four vaccinations) and the overall safety of the vaccine in routine use.

If the testing goes well, not only will the World Health Organization aid the vaccine to its core package of recommended measures for malaria prevention and treatment, but hopefully, it will begin a chain reaction that again sparks a decrease in malaria cases around the world.

– Haley Hiday
Photo: Flickr

Let Girls Learn Initiative Announces $5 Million in New Commitments
Equality. To some, it is merely a word, and to others, an idea. However, to the millions of girls throughout the world who are prevented simply based on their gender from receiving equal education, it is a movement.

In response to this, many associations, organizations and programs are created to end this unnecessary fight against adolescent girls and their right to attaining a quality education. As each contributes in its own corner of the world, there is one that is determined to assist the entire globe.

On the International Day of the Girl, the U.S. government-led initiative known as Let Girls Learn announced an astounding investment of more than $5 million in new private sector commitments.

Assembled by both President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, the program strives to eliminate the vast barriers and obstacles facing young girls around the world from attaining equal and quality education.

Established in March 2015, Let Girls Learn hopes to accelerate the speed at which all girls obtain a quality education. Since its creation, the program has provided more than $1 billion dollars worth of new and ongoing programming in more than 50 countries.

The platform works directly with a multitude of government departments, including the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), to effectively engage civil society and governments around the world act.

With the assistance of the Peace Corps, volunteers are able to identify obstructions limiting adolescent girls from attending schools, while USAID is focused on increasing access to quality education by empowering girls.

Additional programs, companies and organizations contributing to the fight for equal and quality education for girls everywhere include The World Bank, Girl Starter, Let Girls Lead and more.

Moving forward, Let Girls Learn plans on continuing its efforts until the last girl presently prevented from obtaining equal and quality education is put into school.

Jordan J. Phelan

Photo: Flickr

At-Risk Youth in MoroccoYouth facing unemployment in Morocco are extremely vulnerable to a life of crime and drugs and USAID refuses to let this continue.

Issues in the education system have led to dismal circumstances for youth in Morocco, and this government agency is striving to help those already affected by the problems while simultaneously working to solve the root of them.

In the country of Morocco, most students enrolled in the first grade are not predicted to graduate. Drop-out rates are high although 97 percent of children are currently enrolled in school. Moroccan students rank as some of the lowest on international test scores.

Change has become necessary in order for the at-risk youth in Morocco to be properly educated and prepared to provide for themselves and their families.

USAID has partnered with government and nonprofit organizations to implement plans for reform. Research in 2015 suggested that poor and limited teacher training along with a minimal amount of additional reading materials for students were the two main causes of the students’ poor test results.

The Reading for Success-Small Experimentation program has the following three main focuses: a different approach to teaching Arabian phonics, new training guides for teachers and instructors and summer reading activities to cut down on the loss students encounter over the summer months when not in school.

The program began in September 2015 and is set to run until March 2018. It will introduce over 9,000 students in the first and second grade to a new approach to reading, have 180 teachers complete the reformed training and develop effective guidebooks as a resource for teachers, coaches and instructors as they navigate this new approach.

Working even harder to affect real and lasting change, the final goal of the program is to have 800 students participate in the summer reading programs. The Washington Post quoted First Lady Michelle Obama when she said, “research shows that if kids take a break from learning all summer, they not only miss out on new information and skills, they can actually lose up to three months’ worth of knowledge from the previous year.”

The new implementations for summer learning in Morocco will not only help students retain knowledge from the previous year but also equip them for another year of prosperous learning.

But what about the kids who have already finished elementary school?

USAID is also working to help the older youth of Morocco, who make up one-third of the country’s population. Of this one-third, 40 percent do not have jobs and/or are not currently enrolled in school.

The government has partnered with USAID in the cities of Tangiers and Tetouan to provide unemployed youth with vocational training. Their activity, the Favorable Opportunities to Reinforce Self-Advancement for Today’s Youth, began in 2012 and works to increase confidence by training youth in professional skills and giving academic support such as tutoring.

It is doing more than teach skills; this program is giving at-risk youth in Morocco purpose. One student participating in a sewing class in Tangiers told a USAID deputy assistant administrator that “if it wasn’t for this program, [I] would most certainly be on the street selling drugs.”

Morocco is making incredible progress as 12,000 youth are being mentored through this program, and those still enrolled in school are given more and more opportunities for success. The education and vocational skills given to one-third of this nation are sure to positively impact the other two-thirds as well.

Rebecca Causey

Photo: Flickr