Key Data from Malaria Vaccine Pilots to be Studied by WHO for Policy-making

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On the broader use of the vaccine in sub-Saharan Africa, the ongoing malaria vaccine pilots will provide key information and data to inform a World Health Organisation policy. Malaria is a mosquito-borne viral infection, caused by Plasmodium parasites. The parasites are spread to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes, called "malaria vectors." There are 5 parasite species that cause malaria in humans, and 2 of these species – P. falciparum and P. vivax – pose the greatest threat.

The Star media reported that WHO regional director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti on Friday said if introduced widely, the vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives. “Africa has witnessed a recent surge in the number of malaria cases and deaths. This threatens the gains in the fight against malaria made in the past two decades,” Dr Moeti said.

The malaria vaccine pilot programme is now fully underway in Africa, with Kenya joining Ghana and Malawi to introduce the landmark vaccine as a tool against a disease that continues to affect millions of children in Africa.

Known as RTS,S, the vaccine will be available to children from six months in selected areas of the country in a phased pilot introduction. The aim is to vaccinate more than 120,000 children per year in Kenya across the selected introduction areas, including Homa Bay, Kisumu, Migori, Siaya, Busia, Bungoma, Vihiga and Kakamega counties.

Despite the researchers making tremendous progress in eliminating the disease, malaria still remains one of the top 10 causes of death in the country, and a leading killer of children under 5.

Kenya’s Health Cabinet Secretary, Sicily Kariuki, said that “the introduction of the malaria vaccine falls under the key portfolio of public health services that will drive the achievement of UHC. The rising costs of health care and dynamic disease epidemiology and burden make it necessary to leverage on every shilling available for health care services.”

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 timely access to malaria testing and treatment. It is the first and only vaccine to significantly reduce malaria in children, including life-threatening malaria.

“Vaccines are powerful tools that effectively reach and better protect the health of children who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes,” WHO Representative to Kenya Dr Rudi Eggers said, adding that “this is a day to celebrate as we begin to learn more about what this vaccine can do to change the trajectory of malaria though childhood vaccination.”

This WHO coordinated pilot programme is collaboration with the ministries of health in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi and a range of in country and international partners, including PATH, a nonprofit organization, and GSK, the vaccine developer and manufacturer, which is donating up to 10 million vaccine doses for this pilot.