WHO recommends new malaria vaccine

THE World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended widespread use of the RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) malaria vaccine among children in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions of the world.

The recommendation, according to the statement by the Health Organization on Monday, October 2, was based on results from an ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has reached more than 900,000 children since 2019.

In the context of comprehensive malaria control, the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine can prevent P. falciparum malaria in children living in regions with moderate to high transmission as defined by WHO.  

WHO added that the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine should be provided in a schedule of four doses in children from five months of age to reduce malaria disease and burden.

This new development was coming just two years after WHO recommended the first vaccine against malaria.

The WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, highlighting the importance of the drug, noted that the vaccine could save thousands of young children each year.

“This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control.  

Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year,” he said.

Malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa as more than 260,000 children under-five die from malaria annually, according to WHO.

Also, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said malaria had stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering for centuries.

“We have long hoped for an effective malaria vaccine, and now, for the first time, 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.

The organisation recommended the RTS,S malaria vaccine based on the advice of two WHO global advisory bodies.

Giving details of its findings during the trial, WHO mentioned that “To date, more than 2.3 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in three African countries – the vaccine has a favourable safety profile.  

“No negative impact on the uptake of bednets, other childhood vaccinations, or health-seeking behaviour for febrile illness. In areas where the vaccine has been introduced, there has been no decrease in the use of insecticide-treated nets, uptake of other childhood vaccinations or health-seeking behaviour for febrile illness.”

It also noted that the new vaccine is highly cost-effective in moderate to high malaria transmission areas.

“The RTS,S malaria vaccine results from 30 years of research and development by GSK and through a partnership with PATH, with support from a network of African research centres.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided catalytic funding for late-stage development of RTS,S between 2001 and 2015.” WHO added.

Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: [email protected]. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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