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African Researchers Bemoan the Forgotten Epidemic

The seasonal downpours in Burkina Faso nurture clouds of mosquitoes that spread malaria. The parasitic disease kills more than 400,000 people each year. Most victims are children in Africa. The coronavirus pandemic, by contrast, has claimed about 130,000 lives on the continent in the past 15 months, according to World Health Organization estimates. Yet only the coronavirus has commanded a surge of global resources that fast-tracked vaccines, smashing development records and reshaping attitudes toward what is pharmaceutically possible. Now scientists in Burkina Faso aim to harness that momentum to end what they see as the region’s more urgent threat. “We are all frustrated in Africa to see how covid gets so much attention compared to malaria,” said epidemiologist Halidou Tinto, regional director of Burkina Faso’s Institute of Research in Health Sciences. “If malaria concerned the West, the attention would be much more focused.” Tinto, 52, is leading clinical tests on the most promising injection against malaria yet — a shot found to be 77 percent effective for a group of Nanoro children over a 12-month trial, researchers reported this year in a study published in the Lancet. The vaccine candidate, known as R21, is the first of its kind to cross the WHO’s 75 percent threshold, raising hopes and a pressing question: If Pfizer and Moderna can speed up dose deployment, why is this effort taking so long?