THE World Health Organization (WHO) has approved the administration of RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) malaria vaccine on children in sub-Saharan Africa.
The vaccine acts against P. falciparum, the most deadly malaria parasite globally and the most prevalent in Africa.
In a statement on its website, the WHO says the recommendation follows the results of its ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.
The programme has reached more than 800,000 children since 2019.
More than 2.3 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in the three countries.
The announcement came after a report indicated concerns over the emergence of artemisinin-resistant malaria parasites in Africa.
Artemisinin-based combination therapy had been most effective for treating malaria before the emergence of the vaccine.
“This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control,” the WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus says in the statement.
“Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.
“For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering. We have long hoped for an effective malaria vaccine, and now for the first time ever, we have such a vaccine recommended for widespread use.
“Today’s recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease, and we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults,” he added.
.According to the WHO, malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa, adding that more than 260,000 African children under the age of five die from malaria annually.
The vaccine will be provided in a schedule of four doses in children from five months to reduce malaria disease and burden.
The WHO says the vaccine is feasible, increases equity in access to malaria prevention and has a favourable safety profile.
It says the vaccine has no negative impact on the uptake of bednets, other childhood vaccinations, or health-seeking behaviour for febrile illness.
Besides, the vaccination has led to a reduction of 30 per cent in deadly severe malaria, “even when introduced in areas where insecticide-treated nets are widely used, and there is good access to diagnosis and treatment.”
Meanwhile, the organisation says the next step in the process will include funding decisions from the global health community for broader rollout and country decision-making on whether to adopt the vaccine as part of national malaria control strategies.
Three institutions, namely Gavi (the Vaccine Alliance), the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and Unitaid, funded the piloting of the vaccine.