World's first malaria vaccine to be tested in Malawi

World's First Malaria Vaccine Begins Landmark Pilot Program In Malawi

Mary Hamel, MD, senior technical officer of the WHO's RTS, S Malaria Vaccine Implementation Program, called in from Malawi, where she had witnessed the first day of the rollout.

A study showed the vaccine prevented about four in 10 malaria cases among children and "overall, there were 29-per-cent fewer cases of severe malaria in children who received the vaccine".

Pedro Alonso, director of WHO's malaria program, said similar vaccination programs would begin in the coming weeks in Kenya and Ghana, with the aim of reaching about 360,000 children per year across the three countries. The disease kills about 435,000 people each year, the majority of them children younger than 5 in Africa.

"We need new solutions to get the malaria response back on track, and this vaccine gives us a promising tool to get there", he added.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced the launch of the world's first malaria vaccine, aimed for children under the age of 2 in the African continent.

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The pilot programme is a collaboration between the United Nations and ministries of health in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi and a range of other national and worldwide partners, including PATH, a non-profit organization, and GSK, the vaccine developer and manufacturer, which is donating up to 10 million doses for this pilot. According to World Health Organization data, malaria appears to be making a comeback, with 21.9 crore cases in 2017 against 21.7 crore in 2016. The crisis prompted research institutes to initiate innovative measures to control the mosquito-borne disease. It was also an effort to use bioengineering to eradicate the spread of malaria by decreasing the number of the disease spreading insects.

Dr O'Brien said that malaria is "a really hard disease to develop a vaccine against". Earlier, the smaller trials found that the vaccine prevented 4 in 10 cases of malaria including 3 in 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria.

Preventive measures like use of insecticide-treated nets, mosquito repellents, eradicating mosquito breeding grounds, and anti-malaria drugs helped in reducing the disease incidence rate. As part of the pilot program, partners in each country, including the World Health Organization, will evaluate the impact of the vaccine when it's deployed in a routine setting, including how clinicians incorporate the vaccination into their busy practices, the optimal number of doses, as well as the experience of families in the clinic. The RTS, S vaccine needs to be given four times a month - once a month for three months and then a fourth dose is given 18 months later.

Alonso called the vaccination rollout a "historical moment", noting that it was significantly more hard to design a vaccine against a parasite as opposed to a bacterium or virus. Ministries of health will determine where the vaccine will be given; they will focus on areas with moderate-to-high malaria transmission, where the vaccine can have the greatest impact.

The countries were picked because they already run large programmes to tackle malaria, including the use of bed nets, yet still have high numbers of cases.

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