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World’s first malaria vaccine to be piloted

WHO announces three countries as test sites

Jo Carlowe

Monday, 24 April 2017

The World Health Organization has today named the three countries that will pilot the world’s first vaccine against malaria.

The injectable vaccine, known as RTS,S, will be introduced in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi — starting in 2018.

It will be assessed in the pilots as a complementary malaria control tool that could potentially be added to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention, diagnosis, and treatment.

The announcement comes on the eve of World Malaria Day (April 25).

At an event in Nairobi today, WHO called for an accelerated scale-up of efforts to prevent malaria.
In sub-Saharan Africa, which shoulders 90% of the global malaria burden, more than 663 million cases have been averted since 2001. Insecticide-treated nets have had the greatest impact, accounting for an estimated 69% of cases prevented through control tools.

Together with diagnosis and treatment, WHO recommends a package of proven prevention approaches, including insecticide treated nets, spraying indoor walls with insecticides, and preventive medicines for the most vulnerable groups: pregnant women, under-fives and infants.

"WHO-recommended tools have made a measurable difference in the global malaria fight," said Dr Margaret Chan, director general of WHO. "But we need a much bigger push for prevention – especially in Africa, which bears the greatest burden of malaria.”

The new injection has been developed in tightly controlled trials, and will be administered via intramuscular injection and delivered through the routine national immunisation programmes. It needs to be given four times – once a month for three months, and a fourth dose 18 months later.

WHO will run the pilot scheme and continue to assess the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
Commenting, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said: "The prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news. Information gathered in the pilot 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.”

Africa bears the greatest burden of malaria worldwide. Global efforts in the last 15 years have led to a 62% reduction in malaria deaths between 2000 and 2015, yet approximately 429,000 people died of the disease in 2015, the majority of them young children in Africa.

The WHO pilot programme will assess whether the vaccine’s protective effect in children aged 5–17 months old during phase III testing can be replicated in real-life. Specifically, the pilot programme will assess the feasibility of delivering the required four doses of RTS,S, the vaccine’s potential role in reducing childhood deaths, and its safety in the context of routine use.

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