WHO unveils new malaria vaccine

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The World Health Organisation (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.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said the launch of the malaria vaccine, developed after years of painstaking research, marked a critical milestone in the fight against the tropical disease.

The director added that “the prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news. Information gathered in the pilot programme will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine.

“Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa.”

Moeti explained that developed through a public-private partnership, RTS,S malaria vaccine was 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 programme was based on their well-laid structures to fight the disease alongside high prevalence levels.

The WHO director noted that RTS,S vaccine would complement existing interventions like drugs, indoor spraying and treated nets to vanquish the malaria-causing parasite that transmitted by mosquitoes.

“We require new diagnostics, more effective anti-malarial drugs and new chemical formulations to prevent insecticide resistance to win the war against malaria in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Moeti said.

She said the UN Health agency had mobilised funds to support implementation of the initial phase of the malaria vaccine pilot programme that covers 2017-2020.

She said “the vaccine would be assessed as a complementary intervention in Africa that could be added to our existing toolbox of proven preventive, diagnostic and treatment measures.”

She added that 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 per cent of global malaria burden were in Africa.

The Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme, 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 programme of the RTS,S malaria vaccine would target 700,000 African children.

Kenya’s cabinet Secretary for Health, Cleopa Mailu, hailed the launch of the malaria vaccine, saying it would accelerate progress toward eliminating the disease.