WHO launches pilot malaria vaccine in Malawi

April 25, 2019

Recent figures report a marked rise of deadly malaria cases after nearly a decade of fighting the disease – mostly in Africa, where more than 250,000 children die yearly; the WHO records a total of 435,000 malaria deaths worldwide in 2017. Numerous campaigns advocate for effective malaria treatment, thus, in a landmark immunisation project, according to Dr. Kate O’Brien, Director of Immunisation and Vaccines at the WHO, the world’s first malaria vaccine has been administered in Malawi.

The RTS,S vaccine trains the immune system to attack the malaria parasite, usually spread by mosquito bites; the vaccine will give partial protection to children, who have more vulnerable immune systems.

The pilot project aims to immunise 120,000 children in Malawi, aged two years and below. Ghana and Kenya will introduce the vaccine subsequently.The three African countries were chosen because they had previously run large programmes to tackle malaria, including the use of bed nets, yet still have high numbers of cases.

It is difficult to develop a malaria vaccine: RTS, S has been in development since drugs company GSK first created it in 1987; three decades of testing cost an estimated US$1 billion, but has gained the support of a host of organisations, including the Path Malaria Vaccine Initiative.

Earlier, smaller trials report immunisation in nearly 40% of 5-to-17-month-olds who received it, but the efficacy was not high in comparison with vaccines for other diseases.

Dr. David Schellenberg, who has been working on the development of the vaccine with the WHO, has said the RTS,S vaccine is safe and efficacious to prevent clinical malaria episodes and also severe malaria episodes. This vaccine will add to the preventative malaria measures which are already in use – a 40% reduction in severe malaria unfortunately still has high mortality rates even with access to good treatment.

Dr. O’Brien has explained that the vaccine needs to be given four times – once a month for three months and a fourth dose 18 months later; the protection offered is expected to last at least for seven years – a possible challenge for mothers in some areas to take their children to clinics for all four doses.

This stage of the trial is expected to be completed by 2023, according to Path.


Category: Features, Pharmaceuticals

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