Malaria Vaccine Pilot Launched in Malawi

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Ugo Aliogo with agency report

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has welcomed the Government of Malawi’s launch of the world’s first malaria vaccine today in a landmark pilot programme.

According to a statement on the WHO website, signed by the WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, the country was the first of three in Africa in which the vaccine, known as RTS would be made available to children up to two years of age; “Ghana and Kenya would introduce the vaccine in the coming weeks.

The statement also noted that the malaria remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of one child every two minutes.

It further noted that most of these deaths are in Africa, where more than 250 000 children die from the disease every year, adding that children under 5 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. 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,” Ghebreyesus said.

Ghebreyesus in the statement explained that 30 years in the making, RTS was the first, and to date the only, vaccine that has demonstrated it can significantly reduce malaria in children.

It added that in clinical trials, the vaccine was found to prevent approximately four in 10 malaria cases, including three in 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, in the statement said malaria was a constant threat in the African communities where this vaccine would be given.

Moeti, explained that the poorest children suffer the most and are at highest risk of death.

“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,” she added.

The statement added: “The pilot programme is designed to generate evidence and experience to inform WHO policy recommendations on the broader use of the RTS 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 pilot programme is 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 organization, and GSK, the vaccine developer and manufacturer, which is donating up to 10 million vaccine doses for this pilot.”