3 Sugar Cubes

There are three sugar cubes I specifically remember eating as a child. On each occasion, our entire family would get into the car in the evening and travel 14 miles to the school gymnasium in a nearby town where we waited in line for well over an hour. Any complaints about the length of the wait would be answered by our parents with, “Be quiet! And get back in line.” We were rewarded at the end of our wait with a sugar cube on which a nurse had placed a drop of the new polio vaccine. These sugar cubes were not the end of the problem of polio, but it was the beginning of the end.

Today is World Malaria Day. The World Health Organization notes that the incidence and mortality rates from malaria are both falling. The improvements have come as the result of great efforts including improving access to diagnostic tests and treatment for malaria, increasing the use of measures such as bed netting and insecticides to decrease bites by mosquitoes, and by efforts to increase the provision of intermittent preventive treatment medications in pregnancy.

(photo credit:historyofvaccines.org)

Any doctor working in mission hospitals will attest though that these efforts have not yet eliminated the burden of malaria. Drug resistance, insecticide resistance, and incomplete availability of access to preventative measures against malaria all stand as obstacles to the elimination of this disease.

The recent start of malaria vaccine research projects offers the possibility of one more tool in the goal of achieving the elimination of malaria. While still in the early stages, these vaccine studies offer a new hope that one day soon, in many different languages across the 91 countries where malaria is still endemic, parents will turn to their children and say, “Be quiet! And get back in line.” as we see the beginning of the end of malaria.

Dr. Tim Cavanagh

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