Malawi started a historical malaria vaccination pilot programme on Tuesday (April 23), with the first-ever vaccine made against one of the worst global killers.
Known as RTS,S, this vaccine took 30 years to be developed, but the scientific community has been looking for a vaccine against the disease for the past century.
Malaria is still one of the world’s greatest killers, with 435,000 people dying of the disease each year according to the World Health Organization, mostly in Africa where malaria kills more than 250,000 children yearly and with nearly 200 million cases each year.
In Malawi alone, there are about six million cases each year, with 3,000 deaths, according to the authorities.
The vaccine has passed through clinical trials, and after Malawi will be used in Ghana and Kenya in the coming weeks.
The World Health Organization is aiming at having 360,000 children up to two years old being vaccinated each year over the three countries, for a period of five years, with a total of about 1.5 to 2 million children vaccinated, in areas where there is moderate to high malaria transmission.
According to the World Health Organization itself, the vaccine is “imperfect”. In clinical trials, it was found to prevent about four out of 10 malaria cases, including three out 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria, and six out 10 cases of severe malaria anaemia, which is the most frequent reason children die from malaria.
But the U.N. Health agency insisted that when it comes to malaria, given the harshness of the disease, every means has to be used, and that the vaccine is a tool coming on top of others used to fight against it, such as the use of insecticide-treated bed nets, and indoor spraying with insecticides.
They are also hopeful newer vaccines will be developed, following this first one, the result of a collaboration between manufacturer GSK Vaccines, a non-profit organization PATH, ministries of health from Malawi, Ghana and Kenya, and a number of other countries and international partners, under the coordination of the World Health organization.
This pilot vaccination programme is also aimed at providing two years of evidence and experience to see how it helps reduce the number of deaths among children, vaccine safety in the context of routine use and if parents will bring their children in time for the four required doses.