WHO approves first malaria vaccine

A study estimated that if the vaccine were introduced in countries with the highest malaria incidence, it could prevent 23,000 deaths of children under five years of age each year.

  • A nurse explains about the malaria vaccine at a clinic in Cape Coast, Ghana/Getty Images

The World Health Organization has approved the first-ever vaccine to prevent malaria, a disease that kills about 500,000 people each year, including hundreds of thousands of African children under the age of five.

According to the American newspaper, “The New York Times”, the vaccine called Mosquirix is ​​not only the first against malaria, but it is the first vaccine developed for any parasitic disease. Parasites are more complex than viruses or bacteria, and the quest for a malaria vaccine has been underway for a hundred years.

The vaccine, made by GlaxoSmithKline, encourages a child’s immune system to suppress the five most deadly pathogens of malaria.

Clinical trials have shown an efficacy of about 50 percent against severe malaria in the first year, but this number has fallen to nearly zero by the fourth year.

Some experts have questioned whether a vaccine, with its moderate efficacy, is a worthwhile investment in countries with many other problems. But the director of the World Health Organization’s Global Malaria Program described the new vaccine as a historic event. The vaccine is not only the first against malaria – it is the first vaccine developed for any parasitic disease.

A study last year estimated that if the vaccine were introduced in countries with the highest incidence of malaria, it could prevent 5.4 million cases of illness and 23,000 deaths in children under five each year.

This vaccine is given in three doses to people between the ages of five and 17 months, and the fourth dose about 18 months later. After clinical trials, the vaccine has been trialled in three countries – Kenya, Malawi and Ghana – where it has been incorporated into routine immunization programmes.

More than 2.3 million doses have been administered in those countries, reaching more than 800,000 children.

Next step: Gavi will now have to determine whether a vaccine is a worthwhile investment. If it helps, WHO will procure the vaccine for countries that request it, a process that is expected to take at least a year.

“This is a historic moment,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement. “The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a scientific advance for child health and malaria control.” “Using this vaccine in addition to the tools available to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of lives every year,” he added.

“For centuries, malaria has plagued sub-Saharan Africa and caused immense suffering,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “We’ve held out for years our hope of getting an effective malaria vaccine, and now, for the first time, we have a vaccine recommended for widespread use,” he added.

The vaccine works against the mosquito-borne malaria parasite, which is the world’s deadliest parasite and most prevalent in Africa.

The vaccine is a ray of hope for Africa, where malaria kills more than 260,000 children under the age of five each year, especially as concerns grow about malaria drug resistance.

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