WHO approves use of Malaria vaccine in Africa

The World Health Organisation, WHO on Wednesday approved the use of the Malaria vaccine in Africa for children.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director-General WHO, said of the approval, “This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health, and malaria control.”

“Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”

This approval is a major advancement in the effort to combat the disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people annually.

Malaria in Africa

Malaria vaccine could save millions of children’s lives

In Sub-Saharan Africa, malaria is a leading cause of death in children. More than 260,000 African children under the age of five die from malaria every year.

The World Health Organisation is recommending the use of the RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) malaria vaccine, known as Mosquirix for children in Sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high P. falciparum malaria transmission.

This approval follows a pilot programme that started in 2019 involving more than 800, 000 children in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi.

The vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), however has a limitation. It is only about 30 per cent effective, requires up to four doses, and protection fades after months.

“For centuries, malaria has stalked Sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa.

“We have long hoped for an effective malaria vaccine and now for the first time ever we have such a vaccine recommended for widespread use.

“Today’s recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease and we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults.”

On the Vaccine

The manufacturer, GSK said the vaccine when given in combination with seasonal administration of antimalarial drugs, it “lowers clinical episodes of malaria, hospital admissions with severe malaria, and deaths by around 70 per cent”.

According to Thomas Breuer, chief global health officer, GSK,  “the long-awaited landmark decision” could reinvigorate the fight against malaria in the region at a time when progress on malaria control had stalled.

“Both real-world evidence and clinical trial data show that RTS,S, alongside other malaria prevention measures, has the potential to save hundreds of thousands of lives.”

The Director-General, WHO, praised the new drug and its potential.

“This vaccine can be delivered through child health clinics, by ministries of health and readily reach children at high coverage levels. Community demand for the vaccine is strong,” he said.

“It has broad reach to children, including the most vulnerable who may not use a bed net, thereby expanding access to preventive measures to children at risk. It is safe. It significantly reduces life-threatening severe malaria and we estimate it to be highly cost-effective.