The World Health Organization (WHO) is preparing to run Malaria vaccine pilots in three African nations in 2018.
WHO will use the results of these pilots to determine whether or not malaria vaccine programs can be implemented worldwide. The organization pledged to continue assessing the safety and effectiveness of the vaccination, which has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives.
The RTS,S vaccine trains the immune system to attack the malaria parasite, which is spread by mosquito bites. The vaccine needs to be administered in four stages – once a month for three months, then the fourth dose 18 months later.
Positive results have been achieved in controlled clinical trials, but it remains to be seen whether these results can be duplicated in a real-world scenario. Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, said: “The prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news. Information gathered in the pilot program will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine. Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa.”
The pilot will involve over 750,000 children aged between five and 17 months. The controlled trials revealed that four in ten cases of malaria were prevented in this age group. This result is much lower than other approved vaccinations. The trial also documented a one-third reduction in the number of children requiring hospital treatment or blood transfusions. But, noticeably, the benefits seemingly fall off significantly without the fourth dose.
Ghana, Kenya and Malawi were chosen because these countries already run large-scale programs to tackle malaria, yet still record a high volume of the disease. There are reportedly 212 million new cases of malaria each year and 429,000 deaths. Africa is the hardest hit and most of the deaths are in children.
The pilots are being funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Unitaid, the WHO and GSK.
Dr. Seth Berkley, the chief executive of Gavi, said: “The world’s first malaria vaccine is a real achievement that has been 30 years in the making. Today’s announcement marks an important step towards potentially making it available on a global scale. Malaria places a terrible burden on many of the world’s poorest countries, claiming thousands of lives and holding back economies. These pilots are crucial to determining the impact this vaccine could have on reducing this toll.