Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) approved the distribution of the world’s first-ever malaria vaccine. It was also the first vaccine against any parasitic disease.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends the widespread use of the malaria vaccine called RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) also known by its brand name, Mosquirix among children in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions with moderate to high P. falciparum malaria transmission. It is the most deadly malaria parasite globally, and the most prevalent in Africa.
Malaria is a serious and potentially fatal disease spread by mosquitoes. It remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. Annually, more than 260000 African children under the age of five die from malaria disease.
The vaccine is about 36% effective over four years. But, depending on the number of doses available, it is estimated to save between 14,000 and 38,000 children younger than 5 every year if distributed in countries that have the most cases of malaria, The vaccine, when combined with seasonal administration of antimalarial drugs, can reduce clinical malaria cases and deaths by around 70%, according to the vaccine developer GlaxoSmithKline.
“This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health, and malaria control,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”
WHO’s approval of the vaccine comes at a crucial time in malaria control. Between 2000 and 2015, the widespread deployment of many control measures turned the tide against malaria. Insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor spraying of homes, rapid diagnostic tests, and new treatments are estimated to have prevented over 7 million deaths since 2000.
But over the past 6 years, progress against the deadly disease seemed to have stagnated. Evolving mosquito and parasite populations are escaping detection by diagnostic tests and developing resistance to insecticides and antimalarials.
Now the vaccine came to be a strong additional support in controlling the disease’s outspread and saving many lives.
The success of the vaccine is the effort of three 30 years of profitless research and development by GSK, the foresight of generous funders, and close collaboration within African communities at a cost of more than US$750 million. The research and development were funded mainly by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle, Washington, and the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
However, challenges remain, according to WHO, the global health community will have to make financial decisions regarding the vaccine rollout in the future, and countries need to assess if they will adopt the malaria vaccine as part of their strategy to control the disease.
The vaccine distribution will likely come with some challenges, experts say.
But this scientific triumph could be one of the most monumental opportunities in child health for a generation.
For a disease like malaria that kills a child every 2 minutes worldwide, a vaccine with mere 30% efficiency could have a significant effect on decreasing child mortality. And the wide availability of a malaria vaccine holds the possibility of ending preventable child deaths within a generation is now a step closer.
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