This weekend the world observed World Malaria Day, an opportunity to focus international attention on the epidemic and review progress in the fight against the disease.
As someone who grew up in Nigeria in West Africa, I experienced malaria as a normal part of childhood. Malaria was everywhere in my community, as common as the flu is in the United States. But unlike the regular seasonal flu shots we are accustomed to here, we essentially waited for malaria to strike and then were left to treat it.
My siblings and I are all incredibly allergic to quinine--formerly the main ingredient in malaria medicine--so our family spent a lot of time and energy on malaria prevention. Most nights we could be found sealing all the windows and doors of our bedrooms and spraying our rooms with heavy-duty mosquito repellant. We would then wait for about half an hour or so for the fumes to dissipate before heading off to sleep.
Despite our nightly efforts--combined with the mosquito nets and screen doors we had all over our home--we all managed to contract malaria. One of my younger sisters, Mimi, says "I spent my entire childhood with malaria!" This is a slight exaggeration but she did have malaria quite frequently! The effects of malaria were a high fever, achy joints, chills, lethargy, and loss of appetite which lead to weight loss. However, we were the fortunate ones. Our mother worked in healthcare, and our aunt is a doctor. That meant that we had an easier time accessing medical care, and we often received special attention.
The average person living in Sub-Saharan Africa is not as lucky. Each year there are more than 800,000 malaria deaths in Sub-Saharan Africa alone, and more than 900,000 globally.
This is why I am so proud to work for a company with such a strong commitment to malaria research.
GSK has invested more than $300 million and two decades developing a malaria vaccine, now in advanced testing across 11 sites throughout Africa. We join a consortium of world-class African research institutions leading this trial on the ground and together we are more than halfway to our projected enrollment of 16,000 children and infants. Our partnerships--with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, incredible African researchers, and local communities across Africa--are the key factors in our progress.
Additionally, my colleagues across the company are working on exciting initiatives to spur research into new drugs across the globe; develop unique partnerships to speed our R&D efforts; and partner with communities to promote education about malaria prevention.
To address the growing resistance to current malaria treatments, GSK works in partnership with Medicines for Malaria Venture to research new therapies. In addition to our own drug R&D program, GSK helps to advance the work of other researchers in the field. After scanning more than two million drug compounds in our library, we found 13,500 that could potentially inhibit the malaria parasite. In January 2010, GSK made these compounds freely available in the public domain to researchers around the globe.
We also work with local communities through our Africa Malaria Partnership program to prevent and treat malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. The organizations we partner with on-the-ground promote the use of existing interventions such as bed nets, insecticide spraying and existing treatments.
When I was a child, there was no such thing as World Malaria Day. Now, as the world pauses and calls out for continued commitment in the fight against malaria, we can say that we are well on our way to developing new tools to answer that call.
Listen to GSK CEO Andrew Witty on BBC this weekend to mark World Malaria Day.