Malawi rolls out the world's first malaria vaccine - the first injection to significantly reduce malaria in children

The landmark pilot programme will launch in Ghana and Kenya in the coming weeks.

A girl receiving the malaria vaccine during the clinical trial

After 30 years of trials, the world's first malaria vaccine called RTS,S is finally ready to be tested on children.

It is being used in Malawi as part of a large-scale pilot project run by the World Health Organization (WHO). The vaccine, also known as Mosquirix, works by training the immune system to attack the malaria parasite. 

During the coming weeks, it will be used to immunise 120,000 children aged two years and below in Ghana and Kenya. These three countries were chosen because of their high number of malaria cases.

The vaccine would be administered four times: once a month for three months and then a fourth dose 18 months later. 360,000 children are expected to take the injectable vaccines within one year.

It was created in 1987 by scientists at the British pharmaceutical giant GSK. Approximately 4 in 10 malaria cases, including 3 in 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria were prevented in clinical trials.

"Delivering the world's first malaria vaccine will help reduce the burden of one of the most pressing health challenges globally. This novel tool is the result of GSK employees collaborating with their partners, applying the latest in vaccine science to contribute to the fight against malaria," said Dr Thomas Breuer, Chief Medical Officer of GSK Vaccines. 

RTS,S is to be added to the malaria prevention toolkit. WHO's recommended measures includes the use of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying with insecticides, and the timely use of malaria testing and treatment.

Malaria in Africa

Malaria is one of the world's leading killers. According to WHO statistics, a child dies every two minutes from this disease.

These deaths are prominent in Africa, where over 250 000 children die annually from this disease. Children under 5 are particularly affected by malaria.

This vaccine comes in handy as recent data suggests that the fight against the disease has stalled in the continent and other parts of the world.

"We have seen tremendous gains from bed nets and other measures to control malaria in the last 15 years, but progress has stalled and even reversed in some areas. 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 Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "The malaria vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of children's lives."

Malaria is a constant threat in the African communities where this vaccine will be given. The poorest children suffer the most and are at highest risk of death,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, also said. “We know the power of vaccines to prevent killer diseases and reach children, including those who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes.”

“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.

About 10 million vaccine doses have been donated for this pilot programme in Africa.

The pilot is funded by Gavi; the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Unitaid; the WHO; and GSK.

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