One-third of children and women living below the World Bank’s poverty line are infected with hookworm today, which often causes moderate to severe anemia. Hookworm and other Neglected Tropical Diseases, or NTDs, disproportionately affect the poorer Islamic countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, Mali, Nigeria and others in North Africa and the Middle East.
Children and pregnant women are by far the most drastically affected by this disease. Children with long-standing blood loss from hookworm often experience sufficient mental and motor development delays. They can actually lose IQ points as well. These detrimental effects undoubtedly follow them into adulthood, making productivity more difficult.
The blood loss caused by hookworm may affect women in labor, making their chance of death much higher. Additionally, the baby is more likely to be born prematurely or with low birth weight. This makes those babies less likely to survive, contributing to the child mortality rate.
Additionally, the link between hookworms and anemia is a large concern because of its relation to disabilities. Anemia accounted for 8.8 percent of the total disability of the world in 2010. Today, children under 5 years old and women of all ages still hold the heaviest burden.
Fortunately, the Sabin Vaccine Institute’s Product Development Partnership is developing the world’s first hookworm vaccine for human use. The Sabin Institute was established in 2000 with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and is the only Product Development Partnership in the world working to develop a vaccine for human hookworm infections.
The institute is receiving support from the European Commission FP7 program and uniting professionals from around the world to build research. This global consortium has been coined HOOKVAC and includes members from the Netherlands, the United States, Belgium, England, Germany and Gabon. This project aims not only to perfect the manufacturing process of the vaccine, but also to increase and share research on NTDs.
The first clinical testing of the vaccine will take place in Sub-Saharan Africa once it is ready. Gabon’s Lamberene Research Centre will lead clinical testing in adults and children in Gabon, a region plagued with hookworm.
The vaccine is being called the “anti-poverty” vaccine due to its vast potential to lower child mortality rates, save mothers in labor and improve health conditions for agricultural workers, who are the backbone of many poorer economies.
The vaccine, as of now, is intended only for use in the poorest regions of the world, where hookworm thrives. This means that the product will likely not be sold commercially by pharmaceutical companies, but will remain in the nonprofit sector with HOOKVAC.
The project will hopefully conduct trials in the coming years and bring health relief to millions, while contributing to the united fight against global poverty.
– Cambria Arvizo