The world’s first malaria vaccine, RTS,S pilot programme was launched in Malawi on Tuesday.
This makes Malawi the first of three countries in Africa in which the RTS,S vaccine will be made available to children up to two years of age.
RTS,S is a scientific name given to the malaria vaccine and represents its composition; the ‘R’ stands for the central repeat region of Plasmodium (P.) falciparum‘circumsporozoite protein (CSP); ‘T’ for the T-cell epitopes of the CSP;and the‘S’ for hepatitis B surface antigen(HBsAg).
The other two African countries, Ghana and Kenya, will introduce the vaccine in the coming weeks.
Malaria remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of one child every two minutes, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Most of the deaths are in Africa, where over 250 000 children die from the disease every year.
Children under five are at greatest risk of its life-threatening complications. Worldwide, malaria kills 435 000 people a year, most of them children.
According to WHO, the vaccine, RTS, S is an innovation milestone of three decades in development
“Thirty years in the making, RTS,S is the first and to date the only, vaccine that has demonstrated it can significantly reduce malaria in children.
“In clinical trials, the vaccine was found to prevent approximately four in 10 malaria cases, including three in 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria,’’ a WHO statement said.
Also, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said: “Malaria is a constant threat in the African communities where this vaccine will be given.
“ The poorest children suffer the most and are at highest risk of death.
“We know the power of vaccines to prevent killer diseases and reach children, including those who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes.
“This is a day to celebrate as we begin to learn more about what this tool can do to change the trajectory of malaria through childhood vaccination,” Moeti said.
According to Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s Director-General: “We have seen tremendous gains from bed nets and other measures to control malaria in the last 15 years but progress has stalled and even reversed in some areas.
“We need new solutions to get the malaria response back on track and this vaccine gives us a promising tool to get there.
“The malaria vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of children’s lives,’’ Ghebreyesus said.
Reports have it that the pilot programme is designed to generate evidence and experience to inform WHO policy recommendations on the broader use of the RTS,S malaria vaccine.
It will look at reductions in child deaths, vaccine uptake, including whether parents bring their children on time for the four required doses and vaccine safety in the context of routine use.
The vaccine is a complementary malaria control tool to be added to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention.
These other measures include the routine use of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying with insecticides and the timely use of malaria testing and treatment.
Financing for the pilot programme was mobilised through collaboration among three key global health funding bodies, including Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Unitaid.
Also, WHO, PATH and GSK are providing in-kind contributions.