Published: Wed, April 24, 2019
Health Care | By Cedric Leonard

Malawi becomes first nation to immunize kids against malaria

Malawi becomes first nation to immunize kids against malaria

Malawi has become the first country to immunise young children against malaria in a large trial of a vaccine that will give partial protection against the disease.

Ghana and Kenya will introduce the vaccine in the coming weeks.

The immunization requires four doses per child and prevents four in 10 cases of malaria, according to clinical trials.

"We have seen tremendous gains from bed nets and other measures to control malaria in the last 15 years but progress has stalled and even reversed in some areas", WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.

These sentiments were echoed by Pedro Alonso, director of WHO's Global Malaria Programme, who said: "The fight against malaria is one where we use imperfect tools; only when we combine them can we achieve great impact".

"The malaria vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of children's lives".

Mary Hamel, MD, senior technical officer of the WHO's RTS, S Malaria Vaccine Implementation Program, called in from Malawi, where she had witnessed the first day of the rollout.

According to WHO statistics, Africa is by far the continent most affected by malaria, with 90% of the 435,000 people killed in the world in 2017 by this mosquito-borne disease.

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Years of testing supported by a host of organisations, including the Path Malaria Vaccine Initiative, and costing an estimated $1bn (£770m) have led to this point.

The vaccine has been more than three decades in the making, with scientists from drugs company GSK creating it in 1987.

While celebrating the launch of the vaccine, the World Health Organization also reminds that it's a complementary malaria control tool added to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention, including the routine use of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying with insecticides, and the timely use of malaria testing and treatment.

"Nobody is suggesting that this is a magic bullet", said Dr David Schellenberg, scientific adviser to the WHO's Global Malaria Programme, in an interview with the BBC.

Most of these deaths are in Africa, where more than 250 000 children die from the disease every year.

Malawi, Kenya and Ghana were picked for the trial due to the high number of malaria cases in these countries. Worldwide, malaria kills 4,35,000 people a year, majority children.

The vaccine needs to be given four times - once a month for three months and then a fourth dose 18 months later.

"We know the power of vaccines to prevent killer diseases and reach children, including those who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes".

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