GENEVA, SWITZERLAND – The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released the first malaria vaccine to three African countries in what is seen as final attempts to stamp out the disease that claims 435,000 people each year.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a press statement issued on Tuesday said Malawi has started vaccinating children under two years of age and Kenya and Ghana will begin using the vaccine in the coming weeks.
“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,” Dr. Tedros said.
The vaccine offers partial protection from the disease, with clinical trials finding that the vaccine prevented approximately four in 10 malaria cases, according to the WHO.
“The malaria vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of children’s lives,” he added.
The vaccine, RTS,S, also known as Mosquirix, was created by scientists at the British pharmaceutical giant GSK in 1987. It has undergone years of testing and was supported by numerous organizations including PATH, a non-profit organization.
From 2000 to 2015, there was a 62% reduction in malaria deaths, according to the WHO, and a 41% reduction in the number of cases. However, more recent data suggests that malaria is making a comeback, with 219 million cases in 2017, compared with 217 million in 2016.
The vaccine will be given in four doses: three doses between five and nine months of age and the fourth dose provided around the 2nd birthday.
The WHO said the vaccine was a “complementary malaria control tool” to be used in addition to bed nets treated with insecticide, spraying indoor areas with insecticides as well as prompt diagnosis and treatment of the disease.
Malaria is a parasitic disease transmitted through the bite of female Anopheles mosquitoes. It is both preventable and treatable, yet an estimated 435,000 people die of it each year.
Children under five are at the greatest risk of its life-threatening complications and according to the WHO, it claims the life of one child every two minutes. Most of these deaths are in Africa, where more than 250,000 children die from the disease every year.