21st October 2021
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       For many years, malaria has continued to be a tropical disease ravaging Africa. According to the World Malaria Report in 2019, there was an estimated 229 million malaria cases in 87 malaria endemic countries. Treatment for malaria has expended time and costs—from the discovery of quinine, chloroquine, sulfadoxine-pyrimethamine, and most recently the news of the increasing resistance to artemisinin-based treatment. Finally, on October 6, 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced on its website that it is recommending the malaria vaccine RTS,S/AS01 to children in Sub Saharan Africa and other regions with high Plasmodium falciparum malaria. 

All About The Malaria Vaccine

    RTS,S/AS01 is a malaria vaccine that acts against Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of all the malaria parasites. This malaria vaccine was produced by pharmaceutical giant GSK, in partnership with PATH and a network of African researchers in what was described by WHO as ’30 years of research and development’. From 2001-2015, the funding by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation proved to be a major turning point for the development of the vaccine. Subsequently, in 2015, the second clinical trials of the malaria vaccine, RTS,S/AS01 successfully prevented a good number of malaria cases. Four years after the clinical trials, in 2019, a pilot programme was introduced in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi with over 800,000 children receiving routine immunisations against malaria—GSK donated 10 million doses of RTS,S/AS01 towards the programme. The results from this ongoing programme triggered the recommendation for release of the vaccine across Sub Saharan Africa. 

 “This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control.

Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO.

 What is the efficacy of RTS,S/AS01? 

    The big question is how effective is this vaccine? Will it be safe? 

Result: According to the data from the pilot programme, there has been a significant 30% decrease in severe malaria incidence. The data also shows that more than two-thirds of children who are not sleeping under a mosquito net are benefiting from the RTS,S vaccine.

Safety: According to WHO, this is the first malaria vaccine that has completed the clinical development process and received a positive scientific opinion from the European Medicines Agency (EMA), a stringent regulatory authority. Additionally, more than 2.3 million doses of the vaccine have been administered—showing a high level of safety.

How will it be administered

  WHO recommends the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine should be administered in a schedule of 4 doses to children from 5 months of age, particularly in regions with moderate or high transmission. The regulatory body also advised that the vaccine should be used alongside other malaria preventive measures which include bed nets or insecticides. 

  There is no doubt that African countries will seek to maximize this opportunity particularly to reduce the mortality rate amongst children under age 5. We can only hope that following the success of the RTS,S/AS01, there will be plans for development of a malaria vaccine for adults. This is due to the alarming increase in resistance levels of malaria parasites to several antimalarial medications.

   This development is good news for both Africans and the global community at large. As more information is released about the malaria vaccine, it might seem that Africa’s age-long enemy might be laid to rest soon. 

Ruth Torty

Ruth Torty is a biochemist, freelance health and biotechnology content writer. She writes to shed light on health issues, rare diseases and science research in Nigeria. She is also a creative writer and has published on different literary sites including Spillwords and Nnoko Stories. She is passionate about genomics and its role in healthcare.

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