WHO recommends first ever vaccine against malaria

World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus [Reuters]

There is hope in the first against malaria disease following the approval of the first malaria vaccine by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

In a historic event, WHO Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the approval will save lives of thousands of children under the age of five at high risk of severe malaria.

“The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control,” said Tedros during the press briefing in Geneva, recommending the use of the vaccine.

He added the vaccine would save tens of thousands of young lives each year, and reduce child mortality in Africa.

The vaccine - RTS,S manufactured by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) was under a pilot program in Kenya, Malawi and Ghana, that commenced in 2019.

Scientific studies found the vaccine to significantly protect children under five years, against severe malaria and death.

At least more than 800,000 children have received one dose of RTS,S, in Kenya, Ghana and Malawi, through the pilot program coordinated by WHO. In addition, a total of 2.3 million doses have been administered, through routine immunisation programmes.

The pilot program was designed to assess the feasibility of administering the recommended four doses of the vaccine and establishing the vaccine’s role in reducing childhood deaths, and its safety in the context of routine use.

The use of the vaccine was jointly announced in Geneva by WHO’s top advisory bodies for immunization and malaria- the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE) and the Malaria Policy Advisory Group (MPAG), jointly convened to review the full package of evidence on RTS,S and advise on a WHO recommendation for the potential wider use of this malaria vaccine for children in sub-Saharan Africa.

In Kenya, the Ministry of Health, through the National Vaccines and Immunization Programme, is leading the phased vaccine introduction in areas of high malaria transmission since 2019.

The program was to reach out to about 120,000 children per year in Vihiga, Homa Bay, Kisumu, Migori, Siaya, Busia, Bungoma and Kakamega, counties that have significantly recorded a drop in cases of malaria.