Malaria and river blindness are two of the most pressing issues when we talk about health and disease on a global scale, especially in Africa. Both diseases are contracted following a bite from an insect that is playing host to the causative parasite. The insects in question are Simulium black flies in the case of river blindness, and female Anopheles mosquitoes for malaria.
In the past few decades, progress in controlling the spread of these infections has been limited, especially in the case of malaria, as there are four species that can affect humans. However, the deadliest species is not the most prevalent, whereas the most common spec ies is seldom fatal. Each of the four species of malaria can respond to the medicine designed for the different species differently, resulting in potential drug resistance. Therefore, developing a universal, cure-all vaccine is almost impossible. Especially when the parasite is able to evolve quickly and adapt to evade immune responses.
On the 5th October, the Nobel committee made the decision to award the Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine to Professor Satoshi Omura and Dr William Campbell for their research into the discovery of Ivermectin, a drug that tackles the infections caused by the roundworm parasite, such as river blindness and elephantiasis. This drug has proven most effective since it has been in circulation. As a result of this medicine, roundworm diseases, most of which affect some of the poorest nations in the world, are now on the verge of eradication.
Also awarded the prize this year was Professor Youyou Tu from China for her invaluable discovery of the drug named Artemisinin, which has been highly effective at killing the malaria parasite. Since its discovery, Artemisinin has been used in combination with other malaria medicines, resulting in 100,000 lives saved in Africa alone. Following the announcement of the award the Nobel committee said: “the two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually”.
The other recipients of Nobel prizes this year include Takaaki Kajita and Arthur McDonald, who won the prize for physics, for the discovery that neutrinos switch between different ‘flavours’. The prize for chemistry went to Tomas Lindahl, Paul Modrich and Aziz Sancar for their discovery of mechanisms in cells that repair DNA. Angus Deaton won the prize for economics for his analysis of consumption, poverty and welfare. Svetlana Alexievich won the prize for literature, for her writing being a monument to courage and suffering in our time. Finally, the prize for peace went to the Tunisian National Dialogue Quartet for its decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2012.