The year 2016 saw a remarkable progress in research and the fight against the major killer diseases in Africa, especially malaria, HIV, Ebola and Zika.
A week ago, results of an experimental Ebola vaccine showed that the vaccine is “highly protective” against the deadly virus.
The year also came to an end with good news in HIV research, following an announcement that a new vaccine was being tested in South Africa in what scientists said is the first large study of an HIV vaccine’s effectiveness since 2009.
The study aims to enrol 5,400 sexually active young men and women.
The vaccine regime being tested is based on one used in a trial in Thailand in 2009, which had a protection rate of about 30 per cent. Results from South Africa are expected in four years.
In November, the World Health Organisation announced that the world’s first malaria vaccine will be rolled out in pilot projects in sub-Saharan Africa. Funding is secured for the initial phase of the programme and vaccinations are due to begin in 2018.
The vaccine, RTS,S, acts against P. falciparum, the most deadly malaria parasite globally, and the most prevalent in Africa. Advanced clinical trials have shown RTS,S to provide partial protection against malaria in young children.
But in many countries, substantial gaps in programme coverage still remain: Funding shortfalls and fragile health systems continue to undermine progress made in disease control and prevention.
After more than three decades of struggling to contain one of the major disease killers in the world, East Africa is slowing the rate of HIV infections due to heightened emphasis on prevention, treatment and care. According to the latest report by UNAids, new HIV infections declined by 14 per cent between 2010 and 2015 in East Africa.
Despite economic constraints, during this period, sub-Saharan Africa developed the world’s biggest HIV treatment programmes, providing antiretroviral (ARV) treatment to more than 12 million people, compared with 11,000 in the year 2000. By 2015, about 10 million people with HIV in East and Southern Africa and 1.8 million in West and Central Africa were on ARVs, according to the Global Aids Update 2016.
Simplified and decentralised
To achieve these results, East African countries used several health approaches: Affordable prices were negotiated for ARV medicines, service delivery systems were simplified and decentralised, and strong supply chains for ARVs and other HIV-related commodities were established.
More and more countries in the region are integrating prevention and treatment at the community level, meaning homebased caregivers are now becoming responsible for delivering treatments and managing patients.
Countries have also expanded prevention methods, such as voluntary medical male circumcision. Since 2007, more than 10 million men have been circumcised in 16 WHO-designated priority countries – Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Botswana, Ethiopia, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.