Nobel prize: malaria and hope

Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female mosquitoes.There are five parasite species that cause malaria in humans however only two of them create a serious threat to human health.These five parasite can be transmitted through the bites of more than 400 difference species of female mosquitos which for blood in order to nurture their eggs.


The Symptom of Malaria is an acute febrile illness which appears 7 days or after the infective mosquito bite. The first symptoms (fever, headache, chills and vomiting) may be mild and difficult to recognize as malaria. If the disease is not treated within 24 hours, it often leads to death.

In 2015, approximately half of the World population is at risk of malaria but the most malaria cases and deaths occurs in a sub-Saharian Africa countries with a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2015, the region was home to 89% of malaria cases and 91% of malaria deaths.


WHO estimates that in 2015 there were around 214 million cases of malaria with 440.00 deaths. The mortality rate is not extremely high but Malaria increases dramatically the possibilities to get others disease such as severe anemia and respiratory distress.

Since there are no currently licensed vaccines against malaria, Vector control is the main way to prevent and reduce malaria transmission. WHO recommends protection for all people at risk of malaria with effective malaria vector control. Two forms of vector control, mosquito nets and indoor spraying.

Between 2000 and 2015, malaria incidence fell by 37% globally; during the same period, malaria mortality rates decreased by 60%. An estimated 6.2 million malaria deaths have been avoided globally since 2000.

These encouraging data can improve even further in the near future thanks to the scientific discoveries of the 2015 Medicine Nobel Prize winners: Youyou Tu (China), Satoshi Omura (Japan), William C. Campbell (Ireland).

“[These] discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually,” the committee said. “The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable.”

Professor Omura and Professor Campbell discovered avermectin, derivatives of which have helped lower the incidence of river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, two diseases caused by parasitic worms that affect millions of people in Africa and Asia.

Professor Tu discovered artemisinin, a drug that has helped significantly reduce the mortality rates of malaria patients. Tu Youyou joined “Project 523” in 1967 wanted by Chairman Mao Zedong. The aim of the project was to help Communist troops fighting malaria in the jungles of Vietnam. This project took place during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, Professor Tu worked hard despite the fact that Chinese universities and research institutes were shut down by red guards in that period. Professor Tu, who had studied both Chinese and Western medicines, reviewed more than 2,000 ancient herbal recipes from the Academy of Traditional Chinese Medicine in Beijing. Some of them recommended to drink the juice made of water and sweet wormwood.

Analyzing the chemical elements of the juice, its safety and availability, she tried out first on mice and monkeys: the juice was highly effective. As head of the research group, Ms Tu volunteered to be the first test subject herself.

Ms. Tu, kept doing her researches through the years always improving the data, the method and the outcomes. While such a discovery might have won Ms. Tu considerable fame in the World, she gained no recognitions at all in Maoist China.

Only in 2000, when an American scientists started wondering who the head of such an incredible discovery was, the world came to know Professor Tu and her hard work.


Francesco Stefani


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