Ghana, Kenya and Malawi will pilot the world’s first malaria vaccine from 2018, offering it for babies and children in high-risk areas as part of real-life trials, the Reuters Health reports that the World Health Organisation (WHO) said.
The injectable vaccine, called RTS,S or Mosquirix, was developed by British drug maker GlaxoSmithKline to protect children from the most deadly form of malaria in Africa. 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.
The WHO, which is in the process of assessing whether to add the shot to core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention, has said it first wants to see the results of on-the-ground testing in a pilot programme. “Information gathered in the pilot will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine,” Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s African regional director, said as the three pilot countries were announced. “Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa.”
Malaria kills around 430,000 people a year, the vast majority of them babies and young children in sub-Saharan Africa. Global efforts in the last 15 years cut the malaria death toll by 62% between 2000 and 2015.
The report says the WHO pilot programme will assess whether the Mosquirix’s protective effect in children aged 5 to 17 months can be replicated in real-life. It will also assess the feasibility of delivering the four doses needed, and explore the vaccine’s potential role in reducing the number of children killed by the disease.
The WHO said Malawi, Kenya and Ghana were chosen for the pilot due to several factors, including having high rates of malaria as well as good malaria programs, wide use of bed-nets, and well-functioning immunization programs. Each of the three countries will decide on the districts and regions to be included in the pilots, the WHO said, with high malaria areas getting priority since these are where experts expect to see most benefit from the use of the vaccine.
The report says 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.
The WHO said in November it had secured full funding for the first phase of the RTS,S pilots, with $15m from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and up to $27.5m and $9.6m respectively from the GAVI Vaccine Alliance and UNITAID for the first four years of the programme.
South Africa’s Department of Health has admitted it will not meet its target of eliminating malaria by 2018 as it was set out in the 2012-2018 malaria strategic plan, says a Weekend Argus report.
Malaria is endemic in the three of the country’s provinces: Limpopo, Mpumalanga and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN). More than 600 000 malaria deaths occur in Africa and most are children under the age of five. and about 80% of malaria deaths, occur in sub-Saharan Africa. Malaria constitutes a major barrier to social and economic development in the region.
Dr Eunice Misiani, of the malaria directorate within the department, said it was impossible for the country to stick to its target. She said the resurgence came after South Africa recorded a high percentage of imported cases (77% of the 5,775 cases reported in 2016) from neighbouring high-transmission countries.
She said it was hoped that the malaria cross-border initiatives between Mozambique, South Africa, Swaziland (Mosaswa) and Zimbabwe would lead to a reduction of malaria cases along the border areas in the north-eastern part of the country.
“We will work, however, with the World Health Organisation to set new targets. An overall incidence of 0.4 local malaria cases per 100 population at risk was reported in the country during the 2016/17 financial year,” said Misiani.
“Over the past two years the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria has approved proposals for the establishment of the elimination in eight malaria cross-border collaborations between South Africa, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland, Angola, Namibia, Botswana and Zambia with Mosaswa malaria initiatives.
“It is only through concerted efforts with various partners and governments that we can win the war against malaria, because mosquitoes know no borders,” said Misiani.