By James Michael Igiri
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced that, the world’s first vaccine against
malaria will be tested in a large scale operation in three countries – Ghana, Kenya and Malawi – starting in 2018.
The RTS,S vaccine- as it is known- trains the immune system to attack the malaria parasite,
which is spread by mosquito bites.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said the jab had the potential to save tens of
thousands of lives.
The vaccine needs to be given four times – once a month for three months and then a fourth
dose 18 months later. This has been achieved in tightly controlled and well-funded clinical
trials, but it is not yet clear if it can be done in the “real-world” where access to health care is limited.
Consequently, the world health body is running pilots in three countries to see if a full
malaria vaccine programme could be started. It will also continue to assess the safety and
effectiveness of the vaccination.
The WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti 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.” The pilot will involve more than 750,000 children aged between 5 and 17 months, and around half of this number(s) will get the vaccine in order to compare the jab’s real-world effectiveness.
In this age group, the four doses have been shown to prevent nearly four in ten cases of malaria. This is much lower than approved vaccines for other conditions. It also cuts the most severe cases by a third and reduces the number of children needing hospital treatment or blood transfusions; but the benefits fall off significantly without the crucial fourth dose.
The choice of Ghana, Kenya and Malawi for the test-phase is because the trio were chosen they already run large programmes to tackle malaria, including the use of bed nets, yet still have high numbers of cases. Each country will however decide how to run the vaccination pilots, but high-risk areas are likely to be prioritised.
It is important to note that, despite huge progress, there are still 212 million new cases of
malaria each year and 429,000 deaths; with Africa being the hardest hit and most of the deaths are in children.
The Chief Executive of Gavi, Dr Seth Berkley said: “The world’s first malaria vaccine is a real achievement that has been 30 years in the making.
“Today’s announcement marks an important step towards potentially making it available on a global scale. Malaria places a terrible burden on many of the world’s poorest countries, claiming thousands of lives and holding back economies.
“These pilots are crucial to determining the impact this vaccine could have on reducing this toll.” The pilots are being funded by: Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Unitaid, the WHO and GSK.