According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in 2017, there were an estimated 219 million cases of malaria in 87 countries, which resulted in 435,000 deaths – many of which were children. It remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of a child every two minutes.
That’s why a new vaccine against the deadly mosquito-borne disease is being hailed as a landmark.
The first vaccine of its kind, the RTS,S vaccine trains the body’s immune system to attack the malaria parasite. It is being given to children as part of a large scale pilot programme being conducted in Malawi.
Previous, smaller trials showed that nearly 40% of 5-to-17-month olds who received the RTS,S vaccine were protected from malaria.
The vaccine comes at a crucial time as malaria cases appear to be rising once more after decades of success in combatting the disease.
Speaking about the pilot, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said: “Malaria is a constant threat in the African communities where this vaccine will be given. The poorest children suffer the most and are at highest risk of death.
“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.”
Malawi is the first of three countries, along with Ghana and Kenya, where the vaccine will be rolled out. The aim is to immunize 120,000 children aged two years and below.
Malawi, Ghana and Kenya were chosen because despite operating large programmes to tackle malaria, including promoting the use of mosquito nets, they still have high numbers of cases.
The RTS,S vaccine has been more than three decades in the making.