A new malaria vaccine, in development for 30 years, was made available for the first time to infants in Malawi earlier this week marking what the World Health Organisation (WHO) termed an “innovation milestone”.
Malaria remains one of the world’s leading killers, with a child dying every two minutes. Most fatalities are in Africa, where more than 250,000 children die each year.
Known officially as the RTS,S, vaccine, it will be introduced to Ghana and Kenya in the coming weeks.
“We have seen tremendous improvements from bed nets and other measures to control malaria, but progress stalled and even reversed in some areas,” said WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus.
“We need new solutions to bring the malaria response back on track and this vaccine gives us a promising tool. The malaria vaccine has the potential to save thousands of lives.”
‘Thirty years in the making’
RTS,S, is the first and only vaccine so far, to demonstrate it can “significantly reduce” malaria in children. To date in clinical trials it was successful in four in 10 cases where the disease was life threatening to young patients.
WHO Africa regional director, Dr Matshidiso Moeti said malaria was “a constant threat” to communities where the vaccine would be administered in coming weeks. “We know the power of vaccines to prevent killer diseases reaching children, including those who may not have immediate access to doctors,” she said.
‘Model’ public-private partnership
The pilot programme is a collaboration between the UN, ministries of health in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi and national and international partners, including non-profit organisation PATH, and vaccine developer and manufacturer GSK, which donated 10 million doses for the pilot.
“We salute WHO and Malawi for their leadership in this historic milestone and look forward to starting vaccinations in Ghana, then Kenya. A malaria vaccine is among many innovations needed to end this disease,” Steve Davis, PATH president and chief executive, said,
The malaria vaccine pilot aims to reach 360,000 children a year across the three countries. Dr Seth Berkley, chief executive of the global public and private sector vaccine alliance Gavi, said malaria continues to be “one of the biggest killers of children worldwide”, taking the lives of over 200,000 every year.
“These pilots will be crucial to determine what role this vaccine can play in reducing the burden this disease places on the world’s poorest countries,” he said.