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Experimental Malaria Vaccine Shows Promise in Africa

Malaria kills one African child about every 30 seconds. Now, a vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation shows promise in reducing the rate of severe malaria by as much as 50 percent. Susan Dentzer reports from Tanzania.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, the promise of a new malaria vaccine. Susan Dentzer of our Health Unit reports from Tanzania on the eastern coast of Africa. Our unit is a partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

  • SUSAN DENTZER, NewsHour Health Correspondent:

    It's beautiful here in Bagamoyo on Tanzania's north eastern coast, but Nia Ramadhani Suma who lives here has plenty of reason to worry. Her daughter, Salma Othman, is just weeks old in a part of the world where five million children under 5 die every year.

    A major cause of these premature deaths is something almost no Americans ever encounter: the mosquito-borne ravages of malaria. The disease kills one African child about every 30 seconds.

    And that's why this Tanzanian mother chose to have her baby injected with an experimental malaria vaccine. Salma Othman is one of hundreds of African babies now participating in clinical trials to test this vaccine, called RTS,S. Both her mother and father, Kais Mohammed Othman, are enthusiastic.

  • NIA RAMADHANI SUMA, Tanzanian Mother (through translator):

    I learned about this malaria vaccine from a friend. She participated in an earlier study and encouraged me to enroll Salma.

  • KAIS MOHAMMED OTHMAN, Tanzanian Father (through translator):

    I'd like to see Salma spared from having malaria in the future. I hope that the vaccine will succeed and it will one day be used for all children in Africa.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    It's a truly historic moment. Never before has a malaria vaccine shown this much effectiveness in babies and young children, nor made it this far in the testing process.

    Early studies suggest the vaccine can cut malaria infections in infants and young children by as much as 65 percent. Next year, an even broader testing phase will try to confirm the earlier results in trials involving up to 16,000 children in seven African countries.

    The vaccine is a product of several hundred million dollars worth of research over the last quarter-century. It's being produced under a partnership between the global pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. That's a nonprofit effort funded largely by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

    ANDREW KITUA, Tanzania National Institute for Medical Research: They would like the malaria vaccine to be there yesterday.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Dr. Andrew Kitua, director of the Tanzanian government's National Institute of Medical Research, told us why he and other health officials throughout Africa are so hopeful about the vaccine.

  • ANDREW KITUA:

    Malaria in Tanzania is the number-one priority health problem. It affects practically the spectrum of all the populations and all the age groups. Although the most severely affected are children under the age of 5 and pregnant women.