Published: Sat, April 27, 2019
Medicine | By Brett Sutton

Historic moment as world's first ever malaria vaccine campaign launched

Historic moment as world's first ever malaria vaccine campaign launched

The large scale pilot of the world's first vaccine of malaria could save hundreds of thousands of lives.

Ghana and Kenya will introduce the vaccine in the coming weeks, World Health Organization said in a statement.

Although the vaccine only protects about one-third of children who are immunized, those who get the shots are likely to have less severe cases of malaria. "The poorest children suffer the most and are at highest risk of death", said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. Early clinical tests found that the vaccine prevented four of 10 possible malaria cases.

While the last 10 to 15 years have seen "massive success" in the global fight against the disease, progress has stalled due to "flatlined" funding in the last 2 to 3 years, and there is a need for "new tools" - even imperfect tools - in this fight. "We need new solutions to get the malaria response back on track, and this vaccine gives us a promising tool to get there", said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

Kayange said, once rolled out, the vaccine has the capacity to prevent one million of the six million malaria cases recorded annually in Malawi, helping prevent 4,000 deaths. Kenya and Ghana will be the next two countries to receive the vaccine.

The WHO said the vaccine would be used in addition to insecticides and mosquito nets which are now the two major methods of prevention with limited impact. However, over the past few years, the number of cases and deaths have spiralled from 217 million in 2016 to 219 million in 2017. More than 250,000 African children die of the disease every year.

There is, as yet, no fool-proof vaccination for malaria, but there is one that is licensed and offers some protection against the disease. As a partnership between governments, civil society, the private sector and people affected by the diseases, the Global Fund mobilizes and invests almost US$4 billion a year to support programs run by local experts in more than 100 countries.

"This is a day to celebrate as we begin to learn more about what this tool can do to change the trajectory of malaria through childhood vaccination", she added.

He said it would be particularly important to make sure that children received all four doses of the vaccine to maximize its efficacy.

At a time when the very scientific basis and veracity of vaccines are being challenged and doubted as the rising insurance of vaccine hesitancy shows, the malaria vaccine pilots is a reinforcement of the age-old adage of medicine - prevention better than cure.

CEO of PATH Steve Davis described the launch as a "historic milestone". The vaccine works against the most deadly malarial parasite Plasmodium falciparum which is most prevalent in African countries.

The WHO had announced the vaccine in 2017.

The fight against malaria has also been complicated by mosquitoes building up resistance to some commonly used insecticides, according to WHO.

"We look forward to seeing the results of the pilot, and in parallel, are working with WHO and PATH (a non-profit engaged in health equity efforts) to secure the vaccine's sustained global health impact in the future", he added.

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