One of the most encouraging stories to emerge out of the secret and sinister world associated with the global pharmaceutical industry this week is a report that a pharmacological company in the United Kingdom is to market the world’s first malaria vaccine. GlaxoSmithKline is seeking regulatory approval for the world’s first malaria vaccine after preliminary findings from its drug trials suggest that its drug significantly reduced the number of malaria cases in Sub-Saharan Africa. The company has a murky past though. In July 2012, the pharmaceutical giant pleaded guilty to criminal charges and agreed to a $3 billion settlement of the largest health-care fraud case in United States history, and the largest payment by a drug company in the US. The settlement was related to the company’s illegal promotion of prescription drugs, its failure to report safety data, bribing doctors, and promoting medicines for uses for which they were not licensed (Wikipedia, 2013). Let’s pray this significant hope for the future of infants, children and the peoples on the African continent is not sullied with the same misfortunes.
I have traveled extensively throughout West Africa and on occasion have been ill and required hospital treatment. The health care systems I encountered and experienced were served for the most part by caring and compassionate medical personnel, who had to make do with outdated equipment, a lack of State of the Art equipment, and dwindling supplies of the drugs necessary to stave of illness and the effects of serious infections and afflictions like malaria. So, this is great news for Africa, in particular for its most vulnerable and poorest, who suffer beyond measure from neglect and exploitation by those in whose hands is concentrated all the wealth and power of the continent.
According to reports the drug which GlaxoSmithKline want to introduce was found to have reduced the number of malaria cases in children by almost half. While it did not eradicate the disease, this is a significant step towards that goal for those countries in Sub-Saharan Africa where many millions of cases fill their hospital wards. However, as has been pointed out many times, the ability of the mosquito to outwit the drug corporations is renowned, and there are some strains of malaria which remain drug resistant. Nevertheless, with the support of the non-profit Path for Malaria Vaccine Initiative, supported through the philanthropy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, it is hoped that the World Health Organization will approve and recommend the use of the drug. The downside to this good news is that it may not be until 2015 that we see the drug introduced to the most vulnerable communities in the malaria infected countries of Africa. But it does give hope.
Then again hope can quickly turn to despair as on the same day we learn that on a continent where the majority of people live in poverty and earn less than $1.25 a day there are 55 billionaires. 20 members of this group are from Nigeria where the average wage falls below $1:00 a day.
The 55 African billionaires have a combined wealth of $143.88 billion dollars. Such statistics suggest another kind of illness for which there’s no known vaccine: Greed. The World Bank estimates that there are over 400 million people living in poverty in Africa. In West Africa the average yearly income for each person is $309. This compares with an average yearly income for each person in Sub-Saharan Africa of $470. The region’s economic growth has averaged only 2.5 percent during the past three years while its population has been growing by 2.2 percent a year. Moreover, over 55 percent of West Africans life on less than $1 a day; life expectancy at birth is only 46 years; secondary school enrollment is at 20 percent; forty-two percent of adults are illiterate; and malnutrition affects 29 percent of children under the age of five (The World Bank, 2013). What the use of a fine house if you don’t have a just, fair and tolerable planet to build it on? (Thoreau, 2013)
The World Bank. (2013, April 12). West Africa: Facts and Figures. Retrieved October 8/10/2013, 2013, from The World Bank: http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/NEWS/0,,contentMDK:20179737~pagePK:34370~piPK:42768~theSitePK:4607,00.html
Thoreau, H. (2013, October 8). Family Letters. Retrieved October 8, 2013, from goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/tag/materialism
Wikipedia. (2013, October 2). GlaxoSmithKline. Retrieved October 8, 2013, from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GlaxoSmithKline