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.
The world's first vaccine against malaria will be introduced in three countries - Kenya, Ghana and Malawi - starting in 2018; a move that the World Health Organisation (WHO) says has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives. The RTS,S vaccine, as it's known, trains the body's immune system to attack the malaria parasite, which is transmitted to people through mosquito bites. However, it is not yet known if the vaccine will be feasible to use in the poorest parts of the world where access to healthcare is often very limited. This is because the vaccine needs to be given four times over an 18-month period. The concern is that while the vaccine schedule could be followed in a closely-controlled and well-funded clinical trial, real-world situations may prove more difficult - especially in poorer countries. It's the primary reason the WHO is running trials of the vaccine in the three aforementioned countries. It is thought that high risk areas will be targeted first in each of the three countries, all of which already run large programmes to tackle malaria. The trial will involve more than 750,000 children aged between five and 17 months. In the clinical trial, the vaccine prevented nearly four in 10 cases of malaria in this age group. Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, said: "The prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news. "Information gathered in the pilot programme will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine. "Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa."
Malaria kills more than half a million people every year, most of whom are children in Africa. But now, a new vaccine, known as RTS,S, has taken the first step to becoming the first licensed Malaria vaccine. The quality, safety and efficacy of the vaccine have been assessed by the European Medicines Agency's (EMA) Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use (CHMP), which has concluded that it should be given to children in Africa aged 6 weeks to 17 months. The World Health Organisation (WHO) will now review the vaccine further later this year and make a decision whether it should be recommended for use. Approximately 90% of all Malaria deaths each year occur in Africa and 77% of these are in children under five years of age. At present, the most effective preventative measures in Africa to protect against Malaria are bed nets and insecticides which lower the risk of being bitten by a mosquito. Artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs), which have to be administered within 24-hours of a fever appearing, are also used to combat Malaria. If it wins approval, however, the RTS,S vaccine could be used in conjunction with existing Malaria-prevention measures to further bolster Malaria defences. Sir Andrew Witty, CEO of GSK – which manufactures RTS,S - said: "While RTS,S on its own is not the complete answer to malaria, its use alongside those interventions currently available such as bed nets and insecticides, would provide a very meaningful contribution to controlling the impact of malaria on children in those African communities that need it the most." Photo credit: The Wall Street Journal