Bill Gates released a swarm of mosquitoes into the crowd while talking about malaria

Bill Gates has thought a lot about mosquitoes since retiring from Microsoft to devote himself full-time to philanthropy. The billionaire brought a live batch of mosquitoes to TED to send a message about malaria to audience members, most of whom are prominent scholars, artists and politicians.

“Malaria is spread by mosquitoes,” Gates said at a TED talk in 2009. “I brought some today. There is no reason for only the poor to be infected. »

Spokespersons for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation later confirmed that the mosquitoes brought by Bill were free of malaria.

He releases a swarm of mosquitoes into the crowd

Gates made malaria a personal matter. In 2008, he announced that the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation would devote 169 million US dollars (174 million euros or 230 million Canadian dollars) to the development of a vaccine against this disease, within the framework of the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative.

Malaria is contracted by nearly half a billion people each year, and about two million of them die from it. Most of these people are young children living in the sub-Saharan region of Africa.

Around 40% of the world’s population lives in a place where malaria is a problem, and the disease is ranked as the fourth leading cause of child death in developing countries.

A delicate task

However, developing a vaccine against malaria is an extremely delicate task. Indeed, the disease and the mosquitoes that carry it have developed a certain resistance to common treatments and insecticides.

The malaria parasite itself, P. falciparum, is also exceptionally well positioned for immunity. It replicates extremely quickly, which means that any effective remedy eliminates the weaker versions of the parasite and encourages the evolution of stronger versions.

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A glimmer of hope

But there is a silver lining: people who are exposed to the malaria parasite seem to develop immunity against it and never show clinical signs of infection despite a positive blood test. Antibodies taken from immunized adults can be processed and introduced into vulnerable adults, giving them some level of protection.

Other vaccines also show promise, although there are disputes over how best to attack the parasite once it has infected a host. The PATH initiative supports the development of a panoply of potential vaccines.

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