After decades of trial, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has approved the first ever malaria vaccine for widespread use among children in Sub-Saharan Africa and other regions with moderate to high malaria parasite transmission. The vaccine RTS,S/ASOI (RTS,S) or Mosquirix was reportedly developed by PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), with support from the Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation. Mosquirix is regarded as not just the first approved vaccine for malaria, it is the first developed for any parasitic disease.
Following the game-changer development, the Director-General of WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says “this is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control.” He also pointed out that “using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”
Similarly, the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, who hailed the great milestone in vaccine development, observed that “for centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering.” For her, the malaria vaccine “offers a glimmer of hope for the continent which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease and we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults.”
The vaccine recommendation is based on results from pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has reached more than 800,000 children since 2019. We commend all those behind the production of the first malaria vaccine and urge our health authorities to take advantage of the vaccine to curb malaria deaths in children. Considering the havoc malaria has done in Africa, it is a big relief that a vaccine for it has finally been found.
For years, it appeared all hope was lost. Today, the vaccine (RTS,S/ASOI) is here to change the course of public health history. Apart from being the harbinger of death in Africa, malaria is responsible for the death of over 260,000 African children under the age of 5 annually.
It is also the major cause of absenteeism from work, school and other engagements on the continent. Malaria accounts for more than 19 per cent mortality of under-5 children and pregnant women. It also contributes to high level of hospitalisation in Africa. Drugs, bed-nets and insecticides have all helped to combat the malaria scourge. But this vaccine is the ultimate in global effort to contain the disease. Available statistics from WHO show that there are about 229 million cases of malaria every year globally and 94 per cent of them are in Africa. Not less than 409,000 deaths from malaria are recorded every year worldwide.
However, while the celebration lasts, it is necessary to remind the public that just like other vaccines for other ailments before it, the road to total freedom from malaria is still long. The burden of malaria in Africa is so high that prevalent anti-malaria measures such as bed nets and insecticides used in preventing malaria parasite transmission must not be discarded now.
Experts have warned that excessive exposure to mosquitoes may render the jab ineffective. The vaccine will alongside the subsisting measures reduce further the 409,000 malaria deaths recorded annually. No doubt, the new vaccine is going to reduce the incidence of the disease. This will hopefully release more funds to tackle other diseases. It is cheering that the combination of the new vaccine with other conventional methods of protecting children against malaria will help to save the lives of many children on the continent.
We salute the researchers and all those involved in the production of the wonder vaccine. The government should take adequate steps to enhance access to the vaccine. Let the bottlenecks associated with our healthcare delivery system be deemphasised so that the vaccine can reach the target group. We urge the federal health authorities to adopt the vaccine as part of national malaria control strategies.
For effectiveness, the malaria vaccine is given in four doses. The first three are given a month apart at five, six and seven months old and a final booster is needed at around 18 months.