The World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending widespread use of the RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) malaria vaccine among children in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high P. falciparum malaria transmission.
The recommendation is based on results from an ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has reached more than 800 000 children since 2019. WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said:
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This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control.
Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.
Malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 260 000 African children under the age of five die from malaria annually.
In recent years, WHO and its partners have been reporting a stagnation in progress against the deadly disease.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, who is the WHO Regional Director for Africa had this to say:
For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering.
We have long hoped for an effective malaria vaccine and now for the first time ever, we have such a vaccine recommended for widespread use.
Today’s recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent that shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease and we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults.
According to BBC News, there are more than 100 types of the malaria parasite. The RTS,S vaccine targets the one that is most deadly and most common in Africa: Plasmodium falciparum.
Trials, reported in 2015, showed the vaccine could prevent around four in 10 cases of malaria, three in 10 severe cases and lead to the number of children needing blood transfusions falling by a third.
However, there were doubts the vaccine would work in the real world as it requires four doses to be effective.
The first three are given a month apart at five, six and seven months old, and a final booster is needed at around 18 months.