Malaria vaccine launched in Malawi
The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced the launch of the world’s first malaria vaccine, as part of a pilot program coordinated with the Ministries of Health in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. Known as RTS,S, the vaccine will be made available first in Malawi, for access to children up to two years of age; Ghana and Kenya will introduce the vaccine in the coming weeks.
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.
Now, after 30 years in the making, RTS,S is said to be the first and only vaccine that has demonstrated it can significantly reduce malaria in children. In clinical trials, the vaccine was found to prevent approximately four in 10 malaria cases, including three in 10 cases of life-threatening, severe malaria.
The vaccine is a complementary malaria control tool to be added to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention, including the routine use of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying with insecticides, and the timely use of malaria testing and treatment. The pilot program is designed to inform WHO policy recommendations on the broader use of the vaccine, looking 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.
“Malaria is a constant threat in the African communities where this vaccine will be given,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “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.”
The pilot program aims to reach about 360,000 children per year across the three countries, with the Ministries of Health set to focus on areas with moderate-to-high malaria transmission. The vaccine will be given in four doses: three doses between five and nine months of age and the fourth dose provided around the second birthday.
Financing for the pilot program has been mobilised through a collaboration among three key global health funding bodies: Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Unitaid. In-kind contributions come from other program partners, including WHO; non-profit organisation PATH; and vaccine developer and manufacturer GSK, which is donating up to 10 million vaccine doses for the pilot.
“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.”
“We salute WHO and Malawi for their leadership in realising this historic milestone, and we look forward to the start of vaccination in Ghana and then Kenya later this year,” added Steve Davis, President and CEO of PATH. “A vaccine for malaria is among many innovations needed to bring an end to this disease, and we proudly stand with all countries and our many partners in progressing towards a malaria-free world.”
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