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14 May 2019

The Government of Malawi has launched the world’s first malaria vaccine as part of a new landmark pilot program. The country is the first of three in Africa in which the vaccine, known as RTS,S, will be made available to children up to two years of age. Ghana and Kenya will introduce the vaccine in the coming weeks.

The World Health Organisation has welcomed the move and said malaria remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of one child every two minutes.

Most of these deaths are in Africa, where more than 250,000 children die from the disease every year, the WHO states. Children under five are at greatest risk of its life-threatening complications. Worldwide, malaria kills 435,000 people a year, most of them children.

“We have seen tremendous gains from bed nets and other measures to control malaria in the last 15 years, but progress has stalled and even reversed in some areas,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

“We need new solutions to get the malaria response back on track, and this vaccine gives us a promising tool to get there. The malaria vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of children’s lives.”

Thirty years in the making, RTS,S is the first, and to date the only, vaccine that has demonstrated it can significantly reduce malaria in children. In clinical trials, the vaccine was found to prevent approximately four in ten malaria cases, including three in ten cases of life-threatening severe malaria

“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,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“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.

“This is a day to celebrate as we begin to learn more about what this tool can do to change the trajectory of malaria through childhood vaccination.”

The pilot program is designed to generate evidence and experience to inform WHO policy recommendations on the broader use of the RTS,S malaria vaccine. It will look at reductions in child deaths; vaccine uptake, including whether parents bring their children on time for the four required doses; and vaccine safety in the context of routine use.

The vaccine is a complementary malaria control tool, to be added to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention, including the routine use of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying with insecticides, and the timely use of malaria testing and treatment.

The WHO coordinated the pilot program in a collaborative effort with ministries of health in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi and a range of in-country and international partners, including PATH, a non-profit organisation, and GSK, the vaccine developer and manufacturer, which is donating up to 10 million vaccine doses for this pilot.

 


Published: 14 May 2019