In response to the Ebola crisis in West Africa, the U.S. deployed troops to provide assistance. Thankfully, no troops contracted the deadly virus, but five soldiers did contract malaria. The Army Surgeon General Lt. Gen. Patricia Horoho says it is a concern that emphasizes the need for more research on malaria vaccines.
Officials from the Army stated that three of the troops contracted malaria in Liberia between October and November of 2014. Four of the five were from the 15th Engineer Battalion and the other from the 101st Airborne Division. They were officially diagnosed after completing their mandatory 21-day quarantines upon returning home.
All of the soldiers responded well to the treatment.
Even though they recovered, the development of improved medications and preventive immunizations is still a need for other service members, according to Horoho. The U.S. Military Malaria Research Program has worked for decades to make a vaccine for malaria, which infects nearly 200 million people each year worldwide and kills about 584,000, predominantly children, as stated by the World Health Organization (WHO).
There are at leasts 25 malaria vaccine research projects that are continuing worldwide, some of which are put on by the Naval Medical Research Center, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, and the National Institutes of Health/N.I. of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
“I think continuing to ensure that we are aggressively funding and capitalizing on the research […] is absolutely critical. and when you look at the missions in which we are deploying more and more to, the threat of malaria is one of the biggest, if not the number one threat,” stated Horoho.
The malaria parasites P. vivax and P. falciparum are the focal point of current military vaccine research. Those parasites are most common to regions were military personnel are deployed.
In areas in which malaria is endemic, troops are required to take antimalarial prophylactic drugs when deployed. Horoho says that a vaccine would save money as well as help prevent infection among troops. It would cost around a $1.00 per person as compared to “$100 per soldier” for a medicine like Malarone.
In 2014, a total of 44 military personnel contracted malaria – 30 soldiers, four sailors, three airmen, and seven Marines, according to the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center.
More than 800 U.S. troops have been diagnosed with malaria since 2005 and 440+ have been contracted in Afghanistan.
World Malaria Day is this Saturday, April 25th, which is a WHO campaign created to raise awareness about the disease and and promote prevention, research, as well as treatment.
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Source: Military Times