For Online E-newspaper
The East African : Aug 2nd 2015
36 The EastAfrican OUTLOOK AUGUST 1-7,2015 D E VE LO PME N T Mala≥ia vaccine could be app≥oved by 2017 By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI Special Correspondent THE FIRST vaccine to protect African children against malaria could be available in 2017 in the best case scenario. Although the Commit- A maize farmer in Kenya. EAC partner states rely on food imports to feed their growing population. Picture: File Cheap oil, bumper harvests see global food prices decline The dec≥ease is expected to continue as bumpe≥ ha≥vests fo≥ wheat, maize and ≥ice a≥e p≥ojected this yea≥ By JEFF OTIENO The EastAfrican I nternational food prices have decreased by 14 per cent in the past one year, pushed downwards by cheap oil and bumper cereal harvests. The decline represents a five-year low and is expected to continue as bumper harvests for wheat, maize and rice are projected this year. The low food prices will be welcome news for East African countries, which rely on imports to feed their growing populations. High food prices normally trigger inflation. According to the latest edi- tion of the Food Price Watch, published by the World Bank, the agriculture and food sector continues to benefit from less expensive chemical fertiliser and low fuel and transport costs brought on by the previous year’s oil price declines. “Prices were some 19 per cent lower in May than a year ago, with a six per cent decline observed in the past quarter (February to May),” the World Bank says. In fact, in May, interna- tional food prices were at a five-year low, given the fact that such prices were last witnessed in June 2010. “Improving production estimates for wheat, maize and rice; the rise in international reserves and improved supplies in importing countries have all put downward pressure on international prices, while expectations of bumper crops in 2015 are also helping keep prices low. Sharp declines in oil prices and the appreciation of the US dollar have also contributed to lower international prices,” the World Bank report says. Though the cost of crude oil has begun to rise, food prices have so far managed to hold steady, a trend that has helped ease pressure on the limited foreign exchange reserves of the five East African Community member states, which are all food deficit countries and importers of cereals. “The situation in East Af- rica would have been worse if international food prices were higher than they are at the moment, in view of the strengthening of the dol- lar against local currencies,” said agricultural economist George Mwangi. Recently, the dollar has strengthened against the local currencies, prompting a slight increase in inflation rates in the region’s economies. There are fears that the recent increase in oil prices could destabilise the world food market, pushing prices up. In fact, last month OPEC (the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) member countries agreed to put an end to oversupply and maintain their collective output of 30 million barrels per day for the next six months. As a result, the World Bank acknowledges that there are challenges ahead, saying uncertainties have not completely dissipated, and the arrival of the El Nino rains in some parts of the world, the dollar’s appreciation and recent increases of oil prices could affect international food prices in the coming months. However, there are some There is fear that the recent increase in oil prices could destabilise the world food market pushing prices up countries that are experiencing production challenges. In East Africa, for example, although maize prices mostly declined throughout August 2014 and May as a result of well-supplied markets, specific areas of South Sudan, Sudan, and Somalia reported high and volatile maize prices attributed to the lean season, conflict, insecurity, and poor road conditions. In West Africa, cereal pric- es remained stable, benefiting from huge market supplies due to good harvests and CHALLENGES The World Bank acknowledges there are challenges ahead, saying uncertainties have not completely dissipated, and the arrival of the El Nino rains in some parts of the world, the dollar’s appreciation and recent increases of oil prices could affect international food prices in the coming months. Though the cost of crude oil has begun to rise, food prices have so far managed to hold steady. EAC member states are all food deficit countries and importers of cereals. carry-over stocks. However, the World Bank said market disruptions were experienced in conflict-affected areas of northeastern Nigeria and the Central African Republic, as well as in countries affected by the Ebola virus. In Southern Africa, maize prices remained mostly stable in the last quarter of 2014 due to abundant supplies in the region. Maize prices started to increase slightly in the first quarter of 2015 as the lean season progressed. The World Bank said a record harvest in 2014/15 and 10-year high stocks contributed to the slide in the price of wheat. Rice, another world staple crop, has also experienced a steady decline in prices since February as a result of abundant supplies and limited buying interest. A child is tested for malaria. The disease claims nearly 600,000 lives a year. Picture: File tee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP) of the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has adopted a positive scientific opinion for its malaria candidate vaccine Mosquirix for use in African children aged six weeks to 17 months, its analysis of the vaccine results show that it is not as effective against the disease as was hoped. If the vaccine does move forward, the EMA scientists and policymakers agree, it should be used only as a complement to other tools to fight malaria, such as bed nets and antimalarial drugs, not as a replacement. The World Health Organ- isation will now assess how the world’s first malaria candidate vaccine RTS,S could be used alongside other tools to prevent malaria. A second WHO committee will rule on whether the vaccine meets international standards of quality, safety and efficacy. “The problem is that the vaccine doesn’t work all that well,” said Mary Hamel, an epidemiologist at the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, adding, “Ultimately, it will be up to regulatory agencies in individual countries to decide whether to approve RTS,S. Assuming WHO recommends the vaccine’s use, it will be a ‘tough decision’ for countries with limited resources.” In a large phase III trial, whose results were released this year, the vaccine reduced episodes of malaria by about one-third in young children in sub-Saharan Africa. That, according to Dr Hamel, is under the 50 per cent efficacy expected at the beginning of the trial. EMA in its recommen- dations concluded that the benefits outweigh the risks of using the vaccine in both age groups. “The opinion is not a recommendation for use or a formal approval. It is up to countries to decide, but it paves the way for the WHO,” said EMA in its recommendations on the use of the vaccine. “With every vaccine you hope for 100 per cent protection. The current vaccine’s protection is substantial because if your child has three cases of severe malaria a year instead of six, it will change their lives,” said Lucas Otieno, the principal investigator at the Kenya Medical Research Institute. “RTS,S is the first genera- tion malaria vaccine and it will be improved over time. It is the starting point in fighting malaria with a vaccine. Remember that if approved, it will be the first vaccine in history against a human parasite and, given the disease burden, RTS,S would prevent millions of cases of malaria,” said Mr Otieno. Malaria claims nearly 600,000 lives a year, mostly children in sub-Saharan Africa. Phase 3 trials of the RTS,S vaccine involved 16,000 children from Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, and Tanzania. The vaccine reduced malaria cases by 39 per cent in toddlers aged six to 17 months and 27 per cent in infants aged six to 12 weeks. Because the vaccine’s efficacy wanes with time, the trial tested three doses delivered one month apart, followed by a booster 18 months later.
Jul 26th 2015
Aug 9th 2015