– Ghana and Kenya to follow suit later this year
As the global community gears up to celebrate World Malaria Day, which is commemorated annually on 25 April, the Government of Malawi has taken a giant stride in launching the world’s first malaria vaccine, in a landmark pilot programme on Tuesday.
Announcing the epoch-making pilot programme, the World Health Organisation (WHO) through a press statement, applauded the initiative of the Malawian government, in partnering with the institution, along two other African countries, towards the elimination of malaria in Africa.
The vaccine, known as RTS, S, first launched in Malawi on Tuesday, will be made available to children up to 2 years of age, while the governments of Ghana and Kenya, will be introducing the vaccine later in the year.
Speaking on the new development, the WHO Director General Dr Adhanom Ghebreyesus Tedros, acknowledged previous efforts in curtailing the disease, but mentioned the need for new efforts, as vaccination has the potentials to save tens of thousands of children.
His words: “We need new solutions to get the malaria response back on track, and this vaccine gives us a promising tool to get there,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The malaria vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of children’s lives.”
It is noteworthy that malaria remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of one child every two minutes. Most of these deaths are in Africa, where more than 250 000 children die from the disease every year. Children under 5 are at greatest risk of its life-threatening complications. Worldwide, malaria kills 435 000 people a year, most of them children.
Thus, to complement the recommended preventive tools by WHO, which are routine use of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying with insecticides, and the timely use of malaria testing and treatment, the RTS,S, vaccine was introduced.
Regarding the effectiveness of the vaccine, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said the vaccine has been in the process of development for the past thirsty years, and it’s the first, and to date the only, vaccine that has demonstrated it can significantly reduce malaria in children. In clinical trials, the vaccine was found to prevent approximately 4 in 10 malaria cases, including 3 in 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria.
According to her: “We know the power of vaccines to prevent killer diseases and reach children, including those who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes.”
“This is a day to celebrate as we begin to learn more about what this tool can do to change the trajectory of malaria through childhood vaccination,” she added.
The statement further revealed that the pilot programme was designed to generate evidence and experience to inform WHO policy recommendations on the broader use of the RTS,S malaria vaccine. It will look at reductions in child deaths; vaccine uptake, including whether parents bring their children on time for the four required doses; and vaccine safety in the context of routine use.
“The malaria vaccine pilot aims to reach about 360,000 children per year across the three countries. Ministries of health will determine where the vaccine will be given; they will focus on areas with moderate-to-high malaria transmission, where the vaccine can have the greatest impact.
“Delivering the world’s first malaria vaccine will help reduce the burden of one of the most pressing health challenges globally. This novel tool is the result of GSK employees collaborating with their partners, applying the latest in vaccine science to contribute to the fight against malaria,” said Dr Thomas Breuer, Chief Medical Officer of GSK Vaccines. “We look forward to seeing the results of the pilot, and in parallel, are working with WHO and PATH to secure the vaccine’s sustained global health impact in the future.”