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New Vaccine Could Rid Bioko of Malaria by 2020
EGVistas Magazine
New Vaccine Could Rid Bioko
of Malaria by 2020
EGVistas MagazineEGVistas Magazine

Insecticide spraying cut malaria transmission dramatically. Photo: Marathon OilOne of the most encouraging developments in Equatorial Guinea is the successful effort to roll back the terrible toll of malaria on the population. The main target for this project is Bioko Island, which offers the prospect of complete eradication of malaria, protected as it is by the Gulf of Guinea from re-infection from the African mainland.

The project was started in 2003 through a private-public collaboration between several oil industry companies, led by Marathon Oil and including Noble, Sonagas, Gepetrol and AMPCO, and the Ministries of Mines, Industry and Energy and Health and Social Welfare.

The need for action was clear. With its ever wet and humid climate, Equatorial Guinea had one of the highest rates of malaria transmission in the world.

Dr. Carl Maas, the corporate social responsibility manager for Marathon Oil, told Vistas that when Marathon Oil first established a presence in Equatorial Guinea, 45 percent of children there between the ages of 2 and 14 suffered from malaria at any one time, and malaria was the leading cause of death in the country.

“Malaria exacted a tremendous toll on the population and on the country, both economically and socially,” Maas said during a recent interview in Malabo.

He said that research had shown that in 2004 on average every Equatoguinean was bitten 2,000 times a year by a mosquito infected with malaria. Today that rate has dropped dramatically, to just 24 bites per year on average, and in some locations to zero.

To tackle the scourge of malaria, the private-public partnership turned to a Washington-based non-profit, Medical Care Development International, which was provided with the funding it needed to carry out the Bioko Island Malaria Control Project. This was an aggressive program of indoor residual spraying of insecticides, in conjunction with an improved case-management approach that used artemisinin combination therapy (ACT) in place of chloroquine as the first line anti-malarial on Bioko Island.

As a result, the overall transmission rate on Bioko has fallen by 55 percent in child populations and the malaria-related childhood mortality rate has fallen by 65 percent.

The first tranche of funding for this project was $5.3 million provided by the Marathon Oil-led group of companies. This amount was later supplemented to reach a total of $14.9 million for the first five years of the project, of which $1.6 million was provided by the government.

Maas notes that the Ministries of Health and Social Welfare and Mines, Industry and Energy have been great partners, contributing a significant portion of the project costs, and committing to future funding.

He said that of the total $50 million committed to the project during the first 10 years (2003-2013), 73 percent came from the companies and 27 percent from the government. The next five years of the project will be funded 65 percent from the companies and 35 percent from government, which is due to cost an additional $37 million.

But perhaps an even more exciting development is the prospect of an effective anti-malaria vaccine being produced for the first time, raising the prospect of eradicating the disease completely over time.

The vaccine has been developed by Sanaria, a company based in Rockville, Maryland. Initial testing in the United States, Germany, Tanzania and Mali has shown promising results, and Bioko is to participate in testing the vaccine this year.

Funding the vaccine development has been a separate financial commitment by the same group of companies in partnership with the Ministry of Mines, Industry and Energy. The total amount to be committed is $52.3 million. For this project, however, the Ministry is taking the lead, providing 72 percent of the funds to the private sector’s 28 percent.

Helping propel the anti-malaria campaign forward is the personal interest of President Obiang, who last year spent two hours at Sanaria being briefed on the vaccine and the project for Bioko.

According to Maas, the vaccination process will include an initial injection of 270,000 sporozoites, followed eight weeks later by a second injection of the same dosage. A third injection will be given six weeks after that, again with the same number of sporozoites.

Maas explained that the usual path of malaria infection is for sporozoites to enter the bloodstream in fairly small numbers, but once they make their way to the liver they multiply rapidly, causing the malaria symptoms. “So this injection provides a huge number of sporozoites which triggers the immune system to combat them before they get to the liver,” he said.

Once this vaccination regime has been tested and fine-tuned for best results, the plan is to vaccinate the whole population of Bioko. If all goes according to plan, the island will then become the first malaria-free place in Africa by 2020. The vaccination project will then move to Rio Muni.

The implications are huge. Not only will this mean that many Equatoguineans’ lives will be saved, but that malaria can be driven from the continent step-by-step. It also means that Bioko will become a safe place to live and work, for natives and visitors alike. Malaria has always been one of the main concerns with living or working in Africa, and a successful vaccination project could change that.

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From Biodiversity to Business Travel

New Vaccine Could Rid Bioko of Malaria
by 2020
Getting There
Staying There
Maps of Malabo
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