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Carlos Manuel Gamazo de la Rasilla, Full Professor of Microbiology researcher associated to high school of Tropical Health of the University of Navarra.

Knowing: A vaccine to change realities

Fri, 06 Feb 2015 13:01:00 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

In the midst of current affairs plagued by cases of corruption, new political parties, snowstorms and jihadism, it is impossible to find time to think about anything other than our own reality. And although the day-to-day and current affairs take over, from time to time it is useful to make the healthy exercise of learning about other ways of life in order to gain new perspectives. What do we know about the rest of the planet? What are the daily struggles in those places that don't make the headlines? What is life like for the most vulnerable, those who don't make the headlines? 

According to the latest estimates by the United Nations, between 2 and 5 million children die every year worldwide. The main reason is diarrhoeal diseases, which cause the majority of deaths among children under 5 years of age. Why?

In developing countries development, the foundations of the pillars of public health are in serious disrepair. So much so that globally more than 2.5 billion people have major deficiencies in sanitation networks, 800 million of whom do not even have access to safe drinking water. In these circumstances, intestinal microbial pathogens that are released through faeces pass directly into drinking water and food. It is a vicious cycle. Children experience several episodes of severe diarrhoea per year. As a result, malnutrition occurs as inflammation of the intestine prevents proper absorption of nutrients. Malnutrition implies deficiencies in the physical development , including in the maturation of the immune system itself, making the malnourished child more vulnerable to infections. We can define such a state as an acquired immunodeficiency subject .

To prevent infection, simple hygiene measures, such as cleaning hands and applying purification and water purification systems, should be applied staff. To us, residents of developed countries, it seems simple because it is part of our routine. Without realising it, we do not appreciate our health system, our network sewerage, water supply networks, wastewater treatment, water purification systems... and only notice their importance when they fail. In many regions of the world, it is not that they fail, it is that they do not exist.

Vaccines would be the other critical pillar for the control of this subject pathogen. For example, Shigella is a bacterial intestinal pathogen that causes more than 100 million cases worldwide (dysentery) and more than 100,000 deaths, most of them in children under 5 years of age, and again, this occurs mainly in less developed countries. Numerous Shigella vaccines are currently on development but, unfortunately, they have not proven to be effective and therefore none are on the market. Our group at research of the University of Navarra has been working for several years on development to develop a vaccine against bacterial dysentery that meets the requirements of requirements for applicability in the third world: low cost, easy administration and does not require cold storage or transport.

Despite the fact that, due to lack of resources, we are not at the best time to carry out research at maximum capacity, public and private institutions, such as the World Health Organisation and the Gates Foundation, help with grants to enable the groups at research to develop and thus achieve their goals. Good information on the origin of infectious diseases, the application of simple hygiene measures, the construction of purification and water purification systems and the application of effective vaccines would save the lives of millions of children, change their reality and who knows if it would change ours.