Ghana, Kenya and Malawi will become the first countries to test GlaxoSmithKline’s (GSK) malaria vaccine in 2018. The African nations are some of the most affected by malaria, making them ideal for this pilot study.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), when combined with other preventive measures the partially-effective injectable vaccine could help save tens of thousands of lives from succumbing to the infectious disease. Children in nations where malaria is endemic are most at risk of death, however they must receive four doses of GSK’s vaccine in order to obtain the greatest protective benefit.
Malaria infects over 200 million people each year, with around 500,000 dying as a result of the disease. Ninety percent of these cases occur in sub-Saharan Africa, however preventive controls have been successful at reducing this burden.
Insecticide-treated bed netting has been particularly effective at preventing the spread of malaria. Caused by a parasite, malaria is spread by mosquitos who move from person to person carrying the infectious agent present in the blood.
“WHO-recommended tools have made a measurable difference in the global malaria fight,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of WHO. “But we need a much bigger push for prevention – especially in Africa, which bears the greatest burden of malaria.”
The vaccine will be administered to at least 120,000 children between the ages of five and 17 months. According to the WHO, despite the existence of strong prevention and vaccination programs in each of the three African countries, the number of people infected with malaria continues to be high.
“Any death from malaria – a preventable and treatable disease – is simply unacceptable,” said Dr. Pedro Alonso, Director of WHO’s Global Malaria Programme. “Today we are urging countries and partners to accelerate the pace of action, especially in low-income countries with a high malaria burden.”
GSK’s malaria vaccine, RTS,S (Mosquirix), could be a key piece in helping the WHO achieve its goal of eliminating malaria by the year 2040. A number of funding sources – namely, the global vaccine alliance GAVI, UNITAID and Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria – provided the $49 million necessary to start the first phase of the vaccine pilot study in Africa.