This has been a very dismal day of news. I know it can get trite and repetitive to say that when we live in a bleak political and environmental time, and exist in a society that incentivizes the sensationalism of shocking or distressing events, but today felt particularly stagnant and grim.
For instance: The United Nations says the world is ill-equipped for a coming “global water crisis,” while another record deluge of rain caused massive floods, this time in Italy—a perfect representation of the two poles of our climates future, catastrophic floods and crippling drought.
In Texas, a student opened fire during a fight and injured four people at a Dallas-area high school. (He’s since been taken into custody after fleeing the scene.) Washington lobbyists are desperately trying to get the Sackler family off the hook for the opioid epidemic. In Idaho, right-wing Gov. Brad Little flew to the southern border for some political theater, and in his absence, even more right-wing Lieutenant Governor Janice McGeachin declared herself “acting governor” and tried to repeal his COVID restrictions. (The state currently has one of the worst outbreaks in the nation right now.) Surreally, according to Little, she also tried to activate the National Guard and send them to the southern border. (She is running for governor, by the way). Why the leaders of Idaho are so desperately concerned about border security is a particularly absurd trend in American politics that makes me angry enough to consider googling “Idaho state house blueprints” as, you know, a thought exercise.
In Congress, nothing has changed, although Politico now has a little meter measuring Joe Manchin’s general disposition at all times. That’s fun for them, I guess, because they have to fill space in between Manchin saying he will block his party’s agenda and Manchin repeating, again, that he will block his party’s agenda.
I’m sorry. I promised you some good news. Let’s get to that, why don’t we. Oh hang on, Bill de Blasio is reportedly telling people he wants to run for governor of New York. Great, got that last one out of the way.
Today, the World Health Organization approved the first vaccine for malaria. This is the good news. This is good news in an enormous, tremendous, world-changing way, in that it could save millions and millions of lives. My father is a parasitologist, and has said that of all of the nasty and terrifying creatures he spent his life studying, mosquitos are the worst. Their capacity to transmit disease is unmatched, and of those pathogens and parasites, malaria is one of the deadliest afflictions the world has ever known. The vast majority of its modern victims (some 67 percent) are children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa, with more than 274,000 dying in 2019, half of which came from six countries.
Those of us in the developed world do not really have to deal with any of this, nor do we actually understand what malaria is and does to hundreds of thousands of people a year. When I traveled around Southeast Asia in 2013, I took doxycycline as an antimalarial for a few months, but stopped about halfway through because it made my tummy hurt and there weren’t too many bugs out in the cities I was in anyway. Most people who have traveled extensively know someone who’s caught malaria, and while they may have had a rough go of it for a few months, with modern drugs it usually becomes just another little story to tell at a dinner party that makes you seem worldly.
Outside of this world, malaria is a disease that kills babies and strips adults of their strength in regions where most of the people afflicted are living on a razor’s edge from day to day. I say this not to be dramatic and white-savior-y but to try to illustrate that this is a huge deal.
The challenge left is that we are again faced with distributing a vaccine in some of the hardest-to-reach parts of the world. The vaccine has been a success in early clinical trials and has swiftly been added to routine vaccination programs in Kenya, Malawi, and Ghana. It’s not perfect, of course. The vaccine requires four to five doses and must be kept in what’s called the “cold chain,” (i.e. it needs to be kept cold, just like most of the COVID vaccines). At its best, early studies suggest it’s only 50 percent effective in the first year and drops off rapidly after that. The vaccine is only for the specific species of protozoan that cause the most deadly form of malaria, and it also could carry some risks: about five percent of children in one clinical study experienced febrile seizures after vaccination, though investigators couldn’t determine whether or not those adverse effects were caused by the vaccine.
But what this means is that generally, the global community, such as it is, has a chance to drastically decrease a sickeningly routine cause of death that millions of people face on a daily basis. Even in the uniquely cynical version of reality we find ourselves living in, the application of this vaccine could save hundreds of thousands if not millions of lives in the coming years, even if its efficacy is tampered by the constant ruinations of capitalism and imperialist persecution of the global south.
This is good news! It’s easy, I think, to sit on Twitter each day and find specific and horrifying examples of how the world is going to shit, obsessing over the details of things like New York City’s Tall Idiotic Mayor and Fascists Doing Stuff. But every once in a while, we get a clear utilitarian leap in the possibility of a better future for every person on this planet, and to me, identifying those and keeping them in mind as we set priorities for our personal and national politics is one area that doesn’t bum me out. At least for today, I’ll take it.