First malaria vaccine offers “glimmer of hope” to millions

WHO malaria vaccine, sub saharan
© Riccardo Lennart Niels Mayer

The World Health Organisation has recently authorised a malaria vaccine, RTS,S/AS01, which has been successful in pilot schemes launched in 2019

The new drug will be the world’s first ever malaria vaccine. It comes after decades of struggle across sub-Saharan Africa, where over 260,000 children die from the disease every year.

The COVID pandemic threatened to limit health mobilisation across the most-impacted countries, where experts feared that access to malaria care would be changed by the new virus.

Describing concerns at the onset, Michelle Davis, Head of External Relations at Malaria Consortium, said: “In countries where the disease burden of malaria is high, health systems have long felt the strain as governments seek to reduce its devastating impact. The positive news is that we are now at a tipping point in many countries where we know malaria can be beaten, even in remote communities, and areas affected by protracted conflict.”

30% reduction in deadly malaria cases via vaccine

Now, a vaccine has been endorsed by the WHO for use in the most affected regions.

So far, the vaccine has created a 30% reduction in deadly cases – even in areas which already have insecticide-treated nets, and strong access to healthcare. This suggests that the vaccine is even more powerful than two existing methods of preventing malaria.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said: “For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering.

“We have long hoped for an effective malaria vaccine and now for the first time ever, we have such a vaccine recommended for widespread use. Today’s recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease and we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults.”

“A historic moment”

The malaria vaccine will be specifically used against P. falciparum malaria in children living in regions with moderate to high transmission, via a schedule of four doses in children aged five months and over.

“This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”


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