African Countries to Test First Malaria Vaccine

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In short
The World Health Organization-Regional Office for Africa WHO/AFRO announced today that Kenya, Ghana and Malawi will begin piloting the injectable vaccine on children aged five to 17 months to see whether its protective effects shown so far in clinical trials can hold up under real-life conditions.

Three African countries have been chosen to test the world's first malaria vaccine in a pilot implementation programme that will make it available, effective next year.

The World Health Organization-Regional Office for Africa (WHO/AFRO) announced today that Kenya, Ghana and Malawi will begin piloting the injectable vaccine on children aged five to 17 months to see whether its protective effects shown so far in clinical trials can hold up under real-life conditions.

The announcement was made at a high-level forum in Nairobi, Kenya, organized by WHO and the Ministry of Health of Kenya ahead of World Malaria Day commemorated every year on April 25.

The vaccine, RTS,S,  developed by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, is the first malaria vaccine to have successfully completed a Phase III clinical trial conducted between 2009 and 2014. The vaccine will be administered through intramuscular injection and delivered through routine national immunization programmes. 

RTS,S,  also known as Mosquirix, aims to trigger the body's own immune system to defend against malaria, caused by Plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly species of the malaria parasite most prevalent in Africa.

Large-scale Phase III efficacy and safety trials which concluded in January 2014, showed that the vaccine could provide meaningful public health benefit by reducing the burden of malaria when used alongside currently available interventions such long lasting bed nets and insecticides.

The vaccine,  which has partial effectiveness,  has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives if used with existing measures, the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said in a statement.

Spread by mosquito bites, Malaria remains one of the world's most stubborn health challenges, infecting more than 200 million people every year and killing about half a million, most of them children.  Sub-Saharan Africa is hardest hit by the disease, with about 90 percent of the world's cases in 2015.

The preventable disease is the leading cause of death among Ugandans accounting for over 27 percent of lives lost annually, according to 2016 statistics by Malaria Control Programme. The statistic implies that Uganda has the world's highest malaria incidence, with a rate of 478 cases per 1,000 deaths per year. 

A global effort to counter malaria has averted more than 663 million cases since 2001,  according to the World Health Organisation. Insecticide-treated nets have had the greatest impact, accounting for an estimated 69 percent of cases prevented through control tools.
However, approximately 429,000 people died of the disease in 2015, the majority of them young children in Africa.

The WHO is hoping that with new interventions, malaria will be wiped out by 2040 despite increasing resistance problems to both drugs and insecticides used to kill mosquitoes.

It added that the three countries were selected to participate in the pilot based on the high coverage of long-lasting insecticidal-treated nets (LLINs), well-functioning malaria and immunization programmes, a high malaria burden even after scale-up of LLINs, and participation in the Phase III RTS,S malaria vaccine trial.

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and UNITAID, are partnering to provide USD 49 million for the first phase of the pilot programme (2017-2020) which will be complemented by in-kind contributions.
 

 

About the author

Sylvia Nankya
Sylvia is an Editor and Media Trainer with Uganda Radio Network. She has been a URN staff member since 2013. Sylvia has previously worked as a reporter and news anchor with Radio One (2001-2009) and with Vision Group (2009-2011). Six of her active years in Journalism were spent covering the Parliament of Uganda.

Over the past few years, Sylvia has worked to promote the positive development of societies recovering from conflict through training journalists on choices of stories, how they report issues and use of appropriate language in covering conflict and post-conflict situations.

She is an Alumni of RNTC- Holland, Les Aspin Centre for Government at Marquette University-WI, USA and a Community Solutions Fellow.