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Today the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the first ever approved vaccine against Malaria is to be rolled out across Africa. Every two minutes a child under five dies of malaria. The vaccine will be delivered through child health clinics and reaching children at “high coverage levels”, said WHO’s Director-General Doctor Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. It is a “powerful new tool” in the fight against malaria, he said.
The vaccine – called RTS,S – was proven effective six years ago.
Now, after the success of pilot immunisation programmes in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, the WHO says the vaccine should be rolled out across sub-Saharan Africa.
The Director-General of WHO said it was “a historic moment”.
“The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control.”
Using the vaccine on top of existing tools “could save tens of thousands of young lives each year”, he said.
Malaria is a serious tropical disease spread by mosquitoes. If it isn’t diagnosed and treated promptly, it can be fatal.
The vaccine has to be administered in four doses, raising concerns that the uptake would be poor.
However, Dr Kwame Amponsa-Achiano, who has been piloting the vaccine in Ghana to assess whether mass vaccination was feasible and effective, did not encounter this.
“It is quite an exciting moment for us, with large scale vaccination I believe the malaria toll will be reduced to the barest minimum,” he said.
Constantly catching malaria as a child inspired Dr Amponsa-Achiano to become a doctor in Ghana.
“It was distressing, almost every week you were out of school, malaria has taken a toll on us for a long time,” he told the BBC.
There are more than 100 types of malaria parasite. The RTS,S vaccine targets the one that is most deadly and most common in Africa: plasmodium falciparum.
Trials, reported in 2015, had shown the vaccine could prevent around four in 10 cases of malaria, three in 10 severe cases and lead to the number of children needing blood transfusions falling by a third.
However, there were doubts the vaccine would work in the real world as it requires four doses to be effective.
The first three are given a month apart at five, six and seven months old, and a final booster is needed at around 18 months.
The findings of the pilots have been discussed by two expert advisory groups at the WHO on Wednesday.
The results, from more than 2.3 million doses, showed the vaccine was safe and still led to a 30 percent reduction in severe malaria.
The results also showed:
- It reached more than two-thirds of children who don’t have a bed net to sleep under
- There was no negative impact on other routine vaccines or other measures to prevent malaria
- The vaccine was cost-effective.
“From a scientific perspective, this is a massive breakthrough, from a public health perspective this is a historical feat,” said Dr Pedro Alonso, the director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme.
“We’ve been looking for a malaria vaccine for over 100 years now, it will save lives and prevent disease in African children.”
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