The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday unveiled a new malaria vaccine called RTS,S that will be piloted in Kenya, Ghana and Malawi next year to gauge its efficacy and safety.
Speaking at the unveiling ceremony in Nairobi, WHO Regional Director for Africa Matshidiso Moeti said the launch of a malaria vaccine developed after years of painstaking research marked a critical milestone in the fight against the tropical disease.
“The prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news. Information gathered in the pilot program will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine,” Moeti said.
Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa, she added.
Developed through a public-private partnership, RTS,S malaria vaccine has been recommended by a scientific panel appointed by the WHO to gauge its efficacy.
The selection of Kenya, Ghana and Malawi to participate in the malaria vaccine pilot program was based on their well-laid structures to fight the disease alongside high prevalence levels.
Moeti noted that RTS,S vaccine will complement existing interventions like drugs, indoor spraying and treated nets to vanquish the malaria-causing parasite that is transmitted by mosquitoes.
“We require new diagnostics, more effective anti-malarial drugs and new chemical formulations to prevent insecticide resistance in order to win the war against malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Moeti said.
She said the UN Health agency has mobilized funds to support implementation of the initial phase of the malaria vaccine pilot program that covers 2017-2020.
“The vaccine will be assessed as a complementary intervention in Africa that could be added to our existing toolbox of proven preventive, diagnostic and treatment measures,” said Moeti.
She said the Sub-Saharan African region prevented an estimated 6.8 million malaria deaths between 2001 and 2015 thanks to political goodwill and robust financing toward prevention and treatment tools.
WHO statistics show that in 2015, 13 out of 15 countries accounting for 80 percent of global malaria burden were in Africa.
The director of the WHO Global Malaria Program, Pedro Alonso, urged African governments to scale up investments in proven interventions like insecticide treated nets, indoor spraying and medicines to reduce malaria infections and deaths.
“We have highly efficacious prevention and treatment options that should be scaled up to eliminate malaria in high endemic African countries,” said Alonso.
He said the initial pilot program of the RTS,S malaria vaccine will target 700,000 African children.
Kenya’s cabinet secretary for health, Cleopa Mailu, hailed the launch of a malaria vaccine, saying it will accelerate progress toward elimination of the disease. Enditem