Mbabane: The World Health Organization (WHO) has approved the use of the RTS, S/AS01 Malaria vaccine, which goes by the name Mosquirix.
The malaria vaccine will be used among children in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high P. falciparum malaria transmission. WHO said the recommendation is based on results from an ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi that has reached more than 800 000 children since 2019.
According to WHO, since 2019, 2.3 million doses of Mosquirix have been administered to infants in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi in a large-scale pilot programme coordinated by the WHO. The majority of those whom the disease kills are under age five.
The approval of the vaccine follows a decade of clinical trials in several African countries.
According to WHO the malaria vaccine will be provided in a schedule of four doses in children from 5 months of age for the reduction of malaria disease and burden.
WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated that this was a historic moment. “The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health, and malaria control,” he said. He noted that using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.
“This is a vaccine developed in Africa by African scientists and we’re very proud,” said WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. He noted that one of the ingredients in the Mosquirix vaccine is sourced from a rare evergreen native to Chile called a Quillay tree.
According to WHO, Malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 260 000 African children under the age of five die from malaria annually.
Malaria is far more deadly than COVID-19 in Africa. It killed 386,000 Africans in 2019, according to a WHO estimate, compared with 212,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the past 18 months.
The WHO reports states that 94% of malaria cases and deaths occur in Africa, a continent of 1.3 billion people. The preventable disease is caused by parasites transmitted to people by the bites of infected mosquitoes. Symptoms include fever, vomiting, and fatigue.
“For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “We have long hoped for an effective malaria vaccine and now for the first time ever, we have such a vaccine recommended for widespread use. “The recommendation 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, he said.
This vaccine prevents about 30% of severe malaria cases that are more likely to lead to death.
Although researchers knew that RTS,S was effective in well-controlled clinical trials, a few questions remained about whether it was feasible for sub-Saharan African countries to safely roll out the four-dose vaccine in a real-world setting. But since 2019, the malaria vaccine implementation program in Malawi, Kenya, and Ghana has shown excellent vaccine uptake and a good safety profile. To date, the vaccine has been administered to around 800,000 children in those three countries.
Despite international efforts to control it, the burden of malaria has continued and even increased over the past several years.
EMF welcomes decision
The End Malaria Fund (EMF) in Eswatini has welcomed the landmark decision of the approval of vaccine use.
EMF Chairperson Thandile Nxumalo stated that they welcome the momentous news of the malaria vaccine breakthrough as a hallmark in history where through various initiatives they have risen to the resounding call to end malaria which has ravished the world especially the African continent in the past millennia.
She stated that such advancements in Science for the betterment of humanity should be applauded and we should work towards enabling this roll out across the continent alongside proven effective interventions such as Indoor Residual Spraying, Long Lasting Insecticide Treated Nets, Surveillance, and Malaria Advocacy.
Nxumalo noted that Eswatini was very close to malaria elimination, a position that will set the country on a path towards improved health for our people residing and working in malaria at-risk regions of the country.
“We encourage emaSwati now more than ever to contribute to the End Malaria Fund which works with the National Malaria Programme to fund impactful interventions.”
Nxumalo was echoed by End Malaria Fund CEO Steven Mthethwa who stated that this is a huge breakthrough and we join in with the world in celebrating this milestone. Mthethwa said the End Malaria Fund will soon be engaging further with our partners; the Ministry of Health, the World Health Organization, and Clinton Health Access Initiative on the eligibility and viability of a future vaccine rollout in the country.
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