Op-Ed Articles


Carlos Manuel Gamazo de la Rasilla,, Microbiology Professor associated to the Tropical Health Institute of Navarra University

Get to know: A vaccine to change realities

06/02/15 Publicado en Diario de Navarra

In the middle of a present infected with corruption cases, new political parties, snow storms and jihadism it results almost impossible to find a space to think about anything different to our own reality. And even though every day things and and reality are imposed, now and then it is convenient to do the healthy exercise of getting to know other ways of life, what do we know about the rest of the planet? Which are the daily fights in these places that don't make the headlines? How is the life of the unprotected, those that don't make the headlines?

According to the last estimations of United Nations, every year around the world 2 to 5 million children die. The main cause is diarrheal diseases which cause most of the deaths under the age of 5. Why?

In developing countries the pillars of public health are severely deteriorated. It is so that worldwide more than 2500 million people have important sanitation system deficiencies; from these 800 million have no Access to potable water. In these circumstances, intestinal microbial pathogens that are liberated in faeces go directly to the source of drinking water and food. It is a vicious circle. Children experiment several episodes of severe diarrhea per year. Malnutrition is the consequence, because the inflammation of the intestine avoids the correct absorption of nutrients. Malnutrition implies deficiencies in physical development, immune system maturity, making the malnourished child more vulnerable to infections. We can define this state as an acquired immunodeficiency.

To avoid infection simple personal hygiene measures should be applied like hand cleaning, and installation of water purification systems. To us the residents of developed countries, it seems very simple because it is part of our routine, we give for granted our health system, our sewage system, our supply chain, water treatment plants, purification system... and we only stop to acknowledge its importance when they fail. In many regions of the planet they don't fail, they just don't exist.

Vaccines will be the other cornerstone for the control of these pathogens. For example; Shigella is a bacterial intestine pathogen that produces more than 100 million cases in the world (Dysenteries) and more than 100.000 deaths, mostly children under 5 years of age and, again this occurs mainly in the least developed countries. Numerous vaccines against Shigella are currently under development but unfortunately haven't proven efficacy and in consequence are not been marketed. Our Navarra University investigation group has dedicated several years to the development of a vaccine against bacterial dysentery that meets the applicability requirements of the third world: low costs, easy administration and no need of cold chain for transport and conservation.

Besides that we are not at our best moment because of lack of resources to investigate at full capacity, public and private institutions like the world health organization and the Gates foundation help with subventions so that the investigation groups can develop and meet their goals. Good information related with the origin of infectious diseases, the application of simple hygiene measures, the construction of water purification systems and the application of effective vaccines would save millions of children's lives, would change their reality and who knows if ours too. 


Patricia Sáinz de Robredo
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