Africa vaccine trial new push against malaria

Thu Nov 27, 2008 9:59pm EST
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By Andrew Quinn

BAGAMOYO, Tanzania (Reuters) - Billionaire Bill Gates and thousands of babies are helping Africa prepare its largest medical experiment ever, in the search for a new vaccine against malaria.

Researchers say the push comes at a crucial time in the battle against a disease which has been beaten back several times before, only to resurge with deadly vigor.

For Dr. Zena Mtajuka, an exhausted warrior on the frontlines of the fight against one of the planet's most devastating diseases, a vaccine cannot come quickly enough.

"Malaria is our number one killer in this district," said Mtajuka in her cramped office at Bagamoyo District Hospital north of Tanzania's capital Dar es Salaam.

"The hardest thing is that members of the community come to the hospital too late. It makes them harder to save."

Bagamoyo is one of almost a dozen research sites where scientists are in the final stages of preparing for a large-scale efficacy and safety trial of the "RTS,S" vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline PLC.

The trial, which is slated to begin in early 2009 and will involve 16,000 children in seven African countries, is the largest ever undertaken on the continent. Its funders, including groups supported by the Gates Foundation, hope it will result in a new and effective strategy against the disease.

Bagamoyo's malaria burden is typical of many places in tropical Africa, home to most of the roughly one million people who die each year because of the mosquito-borne illness.   Continued...

<p>Faith Ndaa, a malaria patient, lies on her bed at the high dependency unit of Kilifi district hospital, November 26, 2008. REUTERS/Joseph Okanga</p>