World Immunisation Week takes place each year during the final week of April.
The aim of this week is to encourage people to get protected from vaccine-preventable diseases and to highlight the benefits that vaccines have delivered.
This year’s theme assigned by the world Health Organisation is “The Big Catch-Up”, as some countries have fallen behind in ensuring most people are protected by vaccines, especially due to the disruption of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Vaccines have been in use for hundreds of years. Evidence from China shows that people used cowpox to inoculate themselves against smallpox, an infectious disease with a high death rate. Since 1900, over 300 million people have died from smallpox – an entire United States of people.
Edward Jenner, an English doctor, tested the theory of using cowpox to protect against smallpox in 1796. His research was compiled into a report, disseminated in six languages, and by 1801 five years later, 100,000 people in the UK had been inoculated.
Today, we have vaccines for dozens of diseases, including rubella, polio, tetanus, and many more.
Each year, a renewed flu (influenza) vaccine is rolled out in the winter months. This vaccine is specially designed to consider what flu viruses are making people sick currently, what risks are associated with those viruses, and how much they are spreading prior to the winter.
The flu vaccination process is an important step in protecting people, especially those who are elderly and/or immunocompromised.
New vaccines are currently being researched and we have seen some promising progress in vaccines which may tackle malaria and HIV, two of the top ten causes of death in low-income countries each year. These new vaccines, along with our continued improvements in healthcare research, can help us get closer to the eradication of more diseases. Smallpox was officially declared eradicated in 1980. That is a pace we must ensure to increase.
Archive for month: April, 2023
Midlands Science, an organisation supported by the Medtronic Foundation is presenting a Horizon Talk at this year’s European Science Engagement Association Conference [EUSEA] which takes place in Italy next week on May 2nd. The conference is the leading European conference on science outreach and public engagement in science.
The Medtronic Foundation supports Midlands Science for a range of outreach activities and also for a new project which they have developed based on research to date, which identified some key issues that made engaging with science more challenging for some people. This work is focussed on making science outreach and communications more accessible and this means making the communications as usable and as meaningful as possible for as many people as possible. “We’re proud to partner with Midlands Science to expand access for STEM scholars,” said Heidi Jedlicka Halvarson, program manager, Medtronic Foundation. “Together, we can remove barriers to STEM education, grow representation across the field, and help create opportunities for scholars to have a successful future in STEM.”
Over the coming year with a number of experts, Midlands Science will develop and deliver a best practice guide and CPD accredited training in a number of areas which will help make science communications more accessible. These include the use of universal design for learning in science outreach, use of plain English, designing for accessibility, storytelling in science and use of the equity compass, a tool which is particularly helpful for engaging more disadvantaged communities with science.
The opportunity to present the project’s rationale, development and plans to this leading European conference is welcomed by Midlands Science as it’s an opportunity to share practice with others and also to add to the work of campaigns such as Unlock Science and Science is for Everyone. Commenting Jackie Gorman, CEO of Midlands Science said “I am delighted to have the chance to speak at EUSEA 2023 on this exciting project which is going to allow us to embed accessibility and inclusion into science outreach practice and to share this practice with others. The support of the Medtronic Foundation allows us to do this important capacity building work, which we will believe will contribute in a vital way to outreach becoming more and more accessible and inclusive over time, building real cumulative systems change in how everyone engages with science.”
More information about the work of Midlands Science can be found on www.midlandsscience.ie
PHOTO CAPTION – Jackie Gorman, CEO of Midlands Science who will be speaking at EUSEA 2023, pictured late last year when she received the Science Foundation Ireland Award for Outstanding Contribution to Science Communications in Ireland.
Today is World Malaria Day. Every year hundreds of millions of people are infected with Malaria and approximately 430,000 people die from this disease. Over 90% of these deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa and despite malaria mortality rates falling, a child in Africa still dies every minute from malaria.
Malaria is a parasitic infection transmitted from person to person by the bite of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. The term malaria originates from Mediaeval Italian: mala aria meaning bad air as people didn’t know the origin of the disease and there was a common belief that many diseases were caused by bad air in earlier times. Scientific studies on malaria made their first significant advance in 1880, when Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran, a French army doctor in Algeria observed parasites inside the red blood cells of infected people for the first time. The first effective treatment for malaria came from the bark of cinchona tree, which contains quinine and the Jesuits introduced the treatment to Europe around 1640. It was not until 1820 that the active ingredient, quinine, was extracted from the bark, isolated and named by the French chemists Pierre Joseph Pelletier and Joseph Bienaimé Caventou.
Quinine was the predominant malarial medication until the 1920s when other medications began to appear. In the 1940s, chloroquine replaced quinine as the treatment of both uncomplicated and severe malaria until resistance emerged, first in Southeast Asia and South America in the 1950s and then globally in the 1980s.
The most effective treatment for malaria is artemisinin-based combination therapy (ACTs). ACTs have low toxicity, few side effects and act rapidly against the parasite. Today, the majority of African countries have officially changed their protocol to treat first-line malaria with ACTs. But in many places, ACTs are scarcely available and there is growing evidence of emerging parasite resistance to artemisinin – the core compound of ACTs.
There is progress though and we can see that the malaria map is rapidly shrinking. In 1900, endemic malaria was present in almost every country. Nowadays, the disease has been eliminated in 111 countries and 34 countries are advancing towards elimination. No-one can know when malaria will be eradicated but many scientists estimate 2050 or 2060 and that the last battles against this awful disease will likely be waged in wet, tropical, and poor areas.
An important driver of the eradication scenario is scientific research. Thanks to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Wellcome Trust and others, research in malaria is stronger than it has been at any point in the past 50 years. New drugs are in development and vaccines. Currently, the most effective malaria vaccine is R21/Matrix-M, with a 77% efficacy rate shown in initial trials and it is the first vaccine that meets the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) goal of a malaria vaccine with at least 75% efficacy.
Until relatively recently, speaking of elimination and eradication in connection with malaria was regarded as overambitious. However, speeches by Bill and Melinda Gates in 2007, calling for nothing less than global malaria eradication, radically changed discussions and research. Since then, there has been a huge upsurge of commitment to elimination and eventual eradication. Progress is really encouraging now and the responses produced by science are effective and continually improving. With adequate and sustained commitment, the task can be achieved and you can support research that will lead to eradication at https://www.malariaconsortium.org/support-us/donate-europe.htm
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