WHO approves malaria vaccine

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended that the world’s first malaria vaccine should be widely given to children across Africa.

The approval has been described as a major advance against malaria which kills hundreds of thousands of people annually.

WHO’s recommendation means that the vaccine, which is currently in routine use as part of a pilot program in areas of Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi, can soon be available – as an additional malaria control tool – to more children in these three countries, and in other malaria-endemic nations as well.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhamon Ghebreyesus called the endorsement by two expert advisory groups of the UN health agency “an historic moment.”

“This is a vaccine developed in Africa by African scientists and we’re very proud,” said the WHO Director-General.  “Using this vaccine in addition to existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”

Mosquirix, as the malaria vaccine is known, was first created by British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in 1987.

WHO researched its effectiveness on over 800,000 children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi since 2019 where trials were being undertaken.

Since 2019, the Ministries of Health in the three countries have administered more than 2.3 million doses of RTS,S through routine immunization services as part of the pilot program, which is supported by WHO in collaboration with PATH, the vaccine developer GSK, and other partners.

The vaccine, however, is only 30% effective at preventing severe cases, requires four doses and the protection it gives fades after a few months. Side effects are rare but they could include fever and convulsions.

PATH, a global nonprofit dedicated to ending health inequity, has since  described the recommendation as gratifying, saying it has come at a time progress in combatting malaria has stalled in parts of the Africa region and children remain at increased risk of dying from the disease.

“PATH is proud to have helped bring this first malaria vaccine to children at risk,” said Dr. Nanthalile Mugala, PATH’s Chief of the Africa Region.

Mugala added: “RTS,S increases equity in access to malaria prevention, helping to reach children that may not be benefiting from other interventions, like bed nets. In pilot areas, two-thirds of children that were not sleeping under a bed net received the vaccine through routine childhood immunization.”

According to news site DW, Malaria kills 400,000 people each year in Africa, many of them children under five, out of a total of 200 million cases, after trials in Africa.

The Malawi Ministry of Health said April this year that Malawi recorded 6.9 million cases of Malaria and 2,551 deaths in 2020. More than half of those who died were children under the age of five.

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