Trial of the world’s first malaria vaccines has been launched in Malawi as part of a large-scale pilot project run by the World Health Organization (WHO) to give partial protection against the disease.
360,000 children are expected to take the injectable vaccines within a year after the pilot is also rolled out in Ghana and Kenya where children aged between 5 and 17 months would be injected.
The WHO said health ministries in these countries decide where the vaccines would be used.
The RTS,S vaccine which prevented approximately four in 10 malaria cases during clinical trials train the immune system to attack the malaria parasite which is spread by mosquito bites, says the WHO.
“We need new solutions to get the malaria response back on track, and this vaccine gives us a promising tool to get there. The malaria vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of children’s lives,” said the WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The WHO said in 2018 – when the pilot programme was announced – that Ghana, Malawi, and Kenya were chosen for the pilot programme because they have continued to record a high number of malaria cases despite extensive, well-run antimalaria programmes.
The vaccine would be administered four times: once a month for three months and then a fourth dose 18 months later.
Also known as Mosquirix, the vaccine was created by scientists at the British pharmaceutical giant GSK in 1987. It has undergone years of testing and was supported by numerous organizations including PATH, a non-profit organization.
The pilot is funded by Gavi; the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; Unitaid; the WHO; and GSK.
Global efforts in the fight against malaria led to a 62 percent decrease in deaths between 2000 and 2015, but the disease still affects more than 200 million people every year, killing nearly half a million, most of them children.
The WHO said the vaccine would be used in addition to insecticides and mosquito nets which are currently the two major methods of prevention with limited impact.
Other measures have been taken to curb malaria with the most recent being in September 2018 when the Burkina Faso government announced that it has given the greenlight for the release of genetically engineered mosquitoes into the Burkinabe village of Bana.
The programme was part of Target Malaria, which is being spearheaded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. It was also an effort to use bioengineering to eradicate the spread of malaria by decreasing the number of the disease spreading insects.
About 10,000 mosquitoes were expected to be set out into the atmosphere and they were mostly male. They are sterile and if they happen to bite, they will not release any genetically manipulated material, reports Scientific Research.