WHO recommends ‘broad use’ of first malaria vaccine
Africa to benefit from new cure
Published: Oct 07, 2021 06:48 PM
A female Anopheles mosquito Photo: CFP

A female Anopheles mosquito Photo: CFP

The World Health Organization on Wednesday endorsed the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine, the first against the mosquito-borne disease that kills more than 400,000 people a year, mostly African children.

The decision followed a review of a pilot program deployed since 2019 in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi in which more than two million doses were given of the vaccine, first made by the pharmaceutical company GSK in 1987.

After reviewing evidence from those countries, the WHO said it was "recommending the broad use of the world's first malaria vaccine," the agency's director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.

The WHO said it was recommending children in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high malaria transmission get four doses up to the age of 2.

Every two minutes, a child dies of malaria, the agency said. 

Over half of malaria deaths worldwide are in six sub-Saharan African countries and almost a quarter are in Nigeria,  said the 2019 WHO figures.

Symptoms include fever, headaches and muscle pain, then cycles of chills, fever and sweating. Findings from the vaccine pilot showed it "significantly reduces severe malaria by 30 percent," said Kate O'Brien, director of WHO's Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals.

The vaccine is "feasible to deliver," she added and "it's also reaching the unreached... Two thirds of children who don't sleep under a bed net in those countries are now benefiting from the vaccine."

Many vaccines exist against viruses and bacteria but this was the first time that the WHO recommended for use a vaccine against a human parasite.

The vaccine acts against plasmodium falciparum, one of five malaria parasite species and the most deadly.

"From a scientific perspective this is a massive breakthrough," said Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme.

Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa said that Wednesday's recommendation "offers a glimmer of hope for the continent which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease." 

The estimated cost of malaria in sub-Saharan Africa is over $12 billion a year, Alonso said at a news conference.

The RTS,S/AS01 is "a first generation, really important one," said Alonso, "we hope it stimulates the field to look for other types of vaccines to complete or go beyond this one."

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