First large-scale malaria vaccine trials for Africa

Three African countries have been chosen to test the world's first malaria vaccine.

The World Health Organisation Regional Office for Africa (WHO/Afro) announced yesterday that the injectable vaccine, RTS, S, was developed to protect young children from the most deadly form of malaria.

The aim of the trial is to assess the effectiveness of the vaccine as well the feasibility of its delivery to populations at risk as four successive doses must be given on a strict timetable.

In 2015, approximately 429,000 people died from malaria, the majority of them were young children in Africa. 90 percent of 2015's malaria cases occurred in Africa, as did 92 percent of malaria deaths.

The countries will deliver the vaccine through their existing vaccination schemes.


The WHO's decision to pilot the programme in Africa stems from the fact that the continent has the highest burden of the disease.

According to the World Malaria Report 2016, the rate of new malaria cases fell by 21 percent globally between 2010 and 2015.

But the United Nations agency has said in the past that such estimates are based mostly on modelling, and data is so poor for 31 countries in Africa - including those believed to have the worst outbreaks - that it could not tell if cases have been rising or falling in the last 15 years.

Across the Sahel, where most malaria cases and deaths among children occur in the rainy season, World Health Organization recommends seasonal malaria chemoprevention - a preventive therapy shown to reduce new cases of severe malaria in young children by roughly 75 per cent.

In clinical trials it proved only partially effective, and it needs to be given in a four-dose schedule, but is the first regulator-approved vaccine against the mosquito-borne disease. Africa is the hardest hit and most of the deaths are in children.


The pilot program will survey and test over 750,000 children with ages between five and 17 months.

The vaccine will be assessed in the pilot programme as a complementary malaria control tool that could potentially be added to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention. In each country, at least 120,000 children will be vaccinated to see whether the promising results from the clinical trials hold up to real-life conditions. Global officials will see how effectively it protects children exposed to the disease, which is carried by mosquitoes.

RTS, S was developed by GSK in partnership with the non-profit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative and part-funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

While the vaccine's rollout constitutes a "landmark", RTS, S has so far only shown that it offers protection for around one year after the final dose is administered, says Professor David Conway, a malaria expert at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

The pilots are being funded by: Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Unitaid, the World Health Organization and GSK.



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