Research Roundup: A mosquito deliverer, the "fake" medicine crisis, and a promising typhoid vaccine
In this regular feature on Breakthroughs, we highlight some of the most interesting reads in global health research from the past week
A tech nonprofit, WeRobotics, is seeking to deploy drones to deliver hundreds of thousands of sterile mosquitoes into Zika hotspots across Latin America to assist with mosquito population control. Existing research suggests releasing sterile mosquitoes into the wild may eventually reduce populations by as much as 90 percent, though actual mosquito introduction has proven challenging. To solve this, WeRobotics developed small, temperature-controlled drones designed to deploy mosquitoes in rural and hard-to-reach locations, ensuring all affected areas receive the sterile mosquitoes. The drone’s cool temperature leaves the mosquitoes in a deep sleep state, protecting them during the journey, and the drone then releases the mosquitoes from a controlled height to ensure they do not die from impact. WeRobotics plans to deploy these drones soon and will educate local communities about the project.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently announced that about 11 percent of all medicines circulating in low- and middle- income countries are substandard or counterfeit. WHO estimates between 72,000—169,000 children may die from pneumonia and 116,000 may die from malaria every year after receiving falsified or substandard products, suggesting this is a widespread and alarming problem in the world’s poorest countries. Experts believe majority of these cases remain unreported, compounding existing issues with counterfeit or substandard medicine monitoring across affected countries. This is the first time WHO has assessed in-depth the global scope of the problem. In 2013, the agency set up a voluntary global monitoring system for substandard and fake drugs, which has helped bring to light the extent of the issue.
An estimated 50 million doses of antibiotics are prescribed for typhoid every year, with overuse or misuse of these drugs contributing to the global rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. In the city of Karachi, Pakistan—a typhoid-endemic country—antibiotic resistance is rising by 30 percent per year, and 100 percent of typhoid cases are expected to be multi-drug resistant by 2020. A new typhoid vaccine may be the solution to this growing problem. The typhoid conjugate vaccine (TCV) is more effective in preventing typhoid than its predecessor and may protect individuals for up to five years—longer than the previous vaccine. Most importantly, TCV may be given to children under the age of two, expanding the level of coverage to infants who are in critical need of a vaccine. With rising levels of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, having an effective and inclusive typhoid vaccine may save thousands of lives.