World's first licensed malaria vaccine launched in three African countries

WHO intends to include 3,60,000+ kids annually from 3 African countries in the RTS,S pilot program.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has been on a mission to control, and ultimately, end global malaria outbreaks for over 15 years. For a new malaria vaccination launched by WHO, the African city of Malawi promises to be one of three best prospects to study how effective the vaccine is to prevent further outbreaks. The new vaccine could go a long way in preventing the spread of the malaria infection and "save tens of thousands of children's lives", according to the WHO.

Treatment for Malaria, an infection caused by one of many Plasmodium parasites, was only possible after its discovery in 1897. While there aren't any statistics of how widespread malaria was at the beginning of the 20th century, recent data shows that it has come to be one of the world’s leading killers. It claims the life of one child every two minutes, according to the WHO.

There's a good chance that one the 631 compounds in the study could put an end to the deadly Anopheles bite. Reuters

There's a good chance that one of the 631 compounds in the study could put an end to the deadly Anopheles bite. Reuters

The bulk of the deaths from malaria (93 percent as of 2017) take place in Africa, where over 2,50,000 children die annually from malaria infection. The most at-risk are kids under the age of five, who are also the most vulnerable to its life-threatening complications.

Malaria takes roughly 4,35,000 lives a year, WHO reports, most of them children.

The new vaccination, called RTS,S, has been thirty years in the making. It is the first and only vaccine to significantly bring down malaria in children. While this is by no means an end-all for the infection, clinical trials of the vaccine showed that it prevented 4 in 10 malaria cases, including 3 in 10 fatal, severe classes of the infection.

Global malaria deaths up till 2015. Image courtesy: Our World in Data

Global malaria deaths up till 2015. Image courtesy: Our World in Data

The pilot programme in Malawi is designed to offer WHO evidence and experience to advise policymakers about how the RTS,S vaccine can be used on a broader scale. The program will look at how effective it is in reducing the number of child deaths, how quick the vaccine is accepted by children and adults, and how parents respond to it. The vaccine calls for parents bringing in their kids on time for the four required doses of the RTS,S for it to be most effective.

"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," Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said in the statement.

Representational image.

Representational image.

The vaccine has been recommended by WHO for a pilot test in three African countries — Malawi, Ghana and Kenya — as part of a large-scale pilot implementation program. Once the trial phase is completed, the vaccine will be released as a complementary tool for malaria-control that may be added to WHO's core package of recommendations for preventive, diagnostic and treatments for malaria.

So far, WHO plans to include at least 3,60,000 children each year across the three pilot countries to received the RTS,S vaccine from the same health facilities they get routine vaccinations from.

One of the main reasons for choosing Africa as a pilot testbed for the vaccine is because the vaccine isn't effective in protecting against P. vivax malaria — the major kind affecting countries outside of Africa. The RTS,S malaria vaccine was developed specifically with Africa and African children in mind. WHO says that additional studies are underway to see if the vaccine can be used outside Africa, too.

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.