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Revolutionizing Healthcare in Africa: A Virologist’s Perspective on Medical Breakthroughs

Extraordinary Times for Medical Discoveries

The world has been witnessing an unprecedented era of medical breakthroughs, from revolutionary Crispr technology to next-generation cancer treatments and transformative vaccines. These advancements have the potential to reshape healthcare globally. Oyewale Tomori, a prominent virologist with extensive experience in managing diseases in Nigeria, shares his insights on the most significant discoveries and their implications for Africa.

Not Every Region Benefits Equally

While the world embraces these groundbreaking medical discoveries, not every part of the globe enjoys equal access to these innovations. Tomori highlights the glaring disparity in the application and translation of these accelerated medical breakthroughs in certain regions.

Two Game-Changing Developments

Amid a multitude of exciting discoveries, Tomori singles out two as particularly groundbreaking: the new mRNA vaccine technology and two malaria vaccines.

Unlocking mRNA Potential

The advancement in generating, purifying, and delivering RNA has paved the way for RNA therapies across various applications. For instance, RNA therapy has demonstrated its potential to destroy tumour cells in cancer. The core of this technology is messenger RNA (mRNA), a molecule that carries specific instructions to cells, prompting them to produce particular proteins. These proteins, when displayed on the cell’s surface, trigger the immune system’s response, ultimately creating antibodies to fight potential infections.

The mRNA vaccines, such as those for COVID-19, safely instruct the body to produce viral proteins, priming the immune system to respond in the event of exposure. This groundbreaking technology, recognized with the 2023 Nobel Prize in Medicine, offers significant promise in controlling infectious diseases, particularly in Africa.

Malaria Vaccines: A Step in the Right Direction

Africa, burdened by the devastating impact of malaria, has witnessed the approval of two malaria vaccines – the RTS vaccine in 2021 and the R21 vaccine in 2023. While these achievements may not match the rapid pace of COVID-19 vaccine development, they represent significant progress, particularly in malaria-endemic areas. With malaria claiming over 600,000 lives annually in Africa, these vaccines are vital steps toward malaria eradication.

Implications for Africa

The mRNA technology provides a template for developing vaccines against endemic African diseases, including Lassa fever, cholera, and viral hemorrhagic diseases. It promises to revolutionize vaccine development in the region.

Riding the Wave of Breakthroughs

Africa must seize the opportunity presented by these breakthroughs, expanding its vaccine-manufacturing capabilities. Despite previous commitments to boost vaccine production on the continent, Africa currently manufactures less than 1% of its required vaccine doses. To capitalize on these medical advancements, African countries must invest in science, research, and technology, recognizing the significant economic returns such investments can yield.

Investing in Research and Development

Africa’s poor public funding for research is a documented challenge. While the African Union committed to investing 1% of GDP in research and development in 2006, actual funding in 2019 stood at just 0.42%, in stark contrast to the global average of 1.7%. Africa carries a substantial burden of communicable and non-communicable diseases, and efforts should be channeled into finding solutions for AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, Ebola, Lassa fever, and more.

Building Self-Reliance and Independence

African countries must reduce their reliance on donor funding for local research and demand equitable access to essential resources. In doing so, they can enhance health security, social well-being, and economic development. Africa has a significant role to play in advancing healthcare and must take steps to lead the way in healthcare innovation.

Learn more:

  1. Breakthroughs in medicine: top virologist on the two most …
  2. Advancing Innovative Medicines Discovery in Africa
  3. FACT SHEET: Cancer Moonshot Announces New Actions Aimed to Reduce the Cancer Burden in Africa as Part of the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit | OSTP | The White House
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