On this Day:
On April 23, 2019 the world’s first malaria vaccine, giving partial protection to children, began in Malawi by the World Health Organization. Ghana and Kenya were also part of this project.
WHO welcomed the Government of Malawi’s launch of the world’s first malaria vaccine on this day in a landmark pilot programme. The country was the first of three in Africa in which the vaccine, known as RTS,S, will be made available to children up to 2 years of age; Ghana and Kenya introduced the vaccine a little later.
Malaria remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of one child every two minutes. Most of these deaths are in Africa, where more than 250,000 children die from the disease every year. Children under 5 are at greatest risk of its life-threatening complications. Worldwide, malaria kills 435 000 people a year, most of them children. It was available to children from 6 months of age onward through a phased pilot introduction throughout eight countries of Kenya. The end goal is to vaccinate as many as 120,000 children per year.
“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. We need new solutions to get the malaria response back on track, and this vaccine gives us a promising tool to get there,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The malaria vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of children’s lives.”
An Innovation Milestone, Three Decades in Development
Thirty years in the making, RTS,S is the first, and to date the only, vaccine that has demonstrated it can significantly reduce malaria in children. In clinical trials, the vaccine was found to prevent approximately 4 in 10 malaria cases, including 3 in 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria.
“Malaria is a constant threat in the African communities where this vaccine will be given. The poorest children suffer the most and are at highest risk of death,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “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.”
“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,” she added.
The pilot programme was designed to generate evidence and experience to inform WHO policy recommendations on the broader use of the RTS,S malaria vaccine. It looked at reductions in child deaths; vaccine uptake, including whether parents bring their children on time for the four required doses; and vaccine safety in the context of routine use.
The vaccine is a complementary malaria control tool – to be 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.
A Model Public-Private Partnership
The WHO-coordinated pilot programme is a collaborative effort with ministries of health in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi and a range of in-country and international partners, including PATH, a non-profit organization, and GSK, the vaccine developer and manufacturer, which donated up to 10 million vaccine doses for this pilot.
“We salute WHO and Malawi for their leadership in realizing this historic milestone,” said Steve Davis, President and CEO of PATH, “and we look forward to the start of vaccination in Ghana, and then Kenya later this year. A vaccine for malaria is among many innovations needed to bring an end to this disease, and we proudly stand with all countries and our many partners in progressing towards a malaria-free world.”
The malaria vaccine pilot aimed to reach about 360,000 children per year across the three countries. Ministries of health have determined where the vaccine was be given; they focused on areas with moderate-to-high malaria transmission, where the vaccine can have the greatest impact.
“Delivering the world’s first malaria vaccine will help reduce the burden of one of the most pressing health challenges globally. This novel tool is the result of GSK employees collaborating with their partners, applying the latest in vaccine science to contribute to the fight against malaria,” said Dr Thomas Breuer, Chief Medical Officer of GSK Vaccines. “We look forward to seeing the results of the pilot, and in parallel, are working with WHO and PATH to secure the vaccine’s sustained global health impact in the future.”
First, a Story:
“Rainy season should fill us with joy, not malaria parasites.”
― T.K. Naliaka
Second, a Song:
The world’s first malaria vaccine in childhood vaccination was rolled out in 2019 in selected areas of Ghana, Malawi and Kenya, through a pilot programme supported by the World Health Organization. This video highlights the rollout in Ghana. We hope you enjoy!
Thought for the Day:
“Malaria eradication requires a 100% mind-set of success. There are no 70% or 80% or 90% efforts that pass in malaria control and eradication. One single infected mosquito that escapes can go on to bring death to dozens of victims in its lifespan, lay more eggs and restart an outbreak that progresses from a few to dozens to hundreds.”
― T.K. Naliaka
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Have a great day!
Dave & Colleen
© 2022 David J. Bilinsky and Colleen E. Bilinsky