Nobel Prize Awarded for Fight Against Parasitic Diseases

By Jennifer Orford

Over the next two weeks Impact will post the top 12 global health moments of 2015 with commentary from experts. We want to hear your thoughts, too. So login and comment, share on social media and reflect on what has been a pretty interesting year for global health.


On October 5, 2015, three scientists from around the world were recipients of one of the world’s most prestigious awards for their discoveries in the fight against parasitic diseases, including malaria, river blindness, and lymphatic filariasis.

Half of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 2015 was awarded to Youyou Tu (China) for her discovery of Artemisinin, one of the most effective treatments for malaria. The other half of the Nobel Prize was jointly awarded to William C. Campbell (Ireland) and Satoshi Ōmura (Japan) for their discovery of avermectin, the derivatives of which have nearly eradicated river blindness and drastically reduced incidence rates of filariasis.

Dr. Tu’s discovery of Artemisinin has transformed the landscape of malaria treatment. It is used in combination with other drugs to provide treatment, and is the backbone of modern malaria programs today. This drug is estimated to reduce mortality from malaria by more than 20 percent overall and by more than 30 percent in children, one of the most vulnerable populations. For Africa alone, this means that more than 100,000 lives are saved each year.

To that end, months before the award in May, the World Health Assembly adopted the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Technical Strategy for Malaria 2016-2030, a bold vision that aims to reduce malaria by at least 90 percent by 2030, eliminating the disease in at least 35 new countries, and preventing its re-establishment in countries that are malaria free. Furthermore, Bill Gates, Co-chair of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and Ray Chambers, United Nations Special Envoy for Financing the Health Millennium Development Goals and for Malaria, announced their roadmap for acceleration of elimination by 2040.

The other life-changing medicinal discovery recognized by the Nobel Prize is avermectin. Today the avermectin-derivative ivermectin is improving the health and well-being of millions of individuals with river blindness and lymphatic filariasis, primarily in the poorest regions of the world. The treatment is so successful that these diseases are on the verge of eradication, which would be a major feat in the medical history of humankind.

Parasitic worms are estimated to afflict one third of the world’s population, and are particularly prevalent in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Central and South America. River blindness and lymphatic filariasis are two diseases caused by parasitic worms. As the name implies, river blindness ultimately leads to blindness because of chronic inflammation in the cornea. Lymphatic filariasis, afflicting more than 100 million people, causes chronic swelling and leads to life-long stigmatizing and disabling clinical symptoms, including elephantiasis and scrotal hydrocele, according to a statement by the Nobel Prize Committee.

“These two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually”

“These two discoveries have provided humankind with powerful new means to combat these debilitating diseases that affect hundreds of millions of people annually,” the Nobel Prize Committee said in a statement. “The consequences in terms of improved human health and reduced suffering are immeasurable because parasitic diseases represent a huge barrier to improving human health and well-being.”

tu youyou
The Telegraph runs Nobel Prize for Chinese traditional medicine expert who developed malaria cure.

To learn more about PSI’s work in prevention and treatment of malaria, click here.

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Photo Credit (banner): Pascal Le Segretain/Staff 
Caption: Developed for Communist troops fighting in the Vietnam War, Tu Youyou won a Nobel Prize this year for treatment that was major breakthrough in global fight against malaria.

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