Malawi pilots world’s 1st malaria vaccine

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Malawi’s government on Tuesday launched the world’s first malaria vaccine for children from zero to two years.

Malawi is implementing the vaccine programme in collaboration with the World Health Organization (WHO) aimed to reduce malaria cases among children.
In a statement on Tuesday, the World Health Organisation commended the Malawi Government for piloting the vaccination. Tedros Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General, said Malawi was the first of three countries in Africa to launch the vaccine known as “RTS,S.”

Ghana and Kenya are set to introduce the same vaccine in the coming weeks, according to the WHO. Malaria remains one of the world’s leading killers, only new innovations such as this could get the level of malaria response back on track, said Ghebreyesus.

Although tremendous gains were made from the use of bed nets and other malaria control measures over the years, progress had stalled and even reversed in some areas, according to Ghebreyesus.

WHO, he said, welcomes the government of Malawi’s launch of the world’s first malaria vaccine. “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,” he said.

Malaria remains one of the world’s leading killers claiming the life of one child every two minutes, according to the WHO. Most of these deaths are in Africa, where more than 250,000 children die from the disease every year. “Children under 5 are at greatest risk of its life-threatening complications. Worldwide, malaria kills 435,000 people a year most of whom are children,” Ghebreyesus said.

According to the WHO, to date RTS,S is the first and only vaccine that has demonstrated it can significantly reduce malaria in children. He explained 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 vaccine was developed and manufactured by GSK, which is also donating up to 10 million vaccine doses for the pilot phase of the programme. The pilot programme is designed to generate evidence and experience to inform WHO policy recommendations on broader use of RTS,S malaria vaccine.

The vaccine would be added to the core WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention which includes routine use of insecticide-treated nets, indoor spraying with insecticides and timely use of malaria testing and treatment, according to Ghebreyesus.

The pilot programme is projected to reach about 360,000 children yearly across countries.The vaccine remains the strongest tool in reaching children and preventing killer diseases, said Matshidiso Moeti, the 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,” she said.

Thomas Breuer, the Chief Medical Officer of GSK Vaccines, said that delivering the world’s first malaria vaccine would help reduce the burden of one of the most pressing health challenges globally. Malaria vaccine RTS, S/AS01 also known as Mosquirix is an injectable vaccine said to reduce malaria episodes by close to 40 percent in young children. The vaccine acts against plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest malaria parasite globally and the most common in Africa.

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