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Ghana, Kenya, And Malawi Get World's First Malaria Vaccine

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The World Health Organization announced on Monday, April 24 that the world's first malaria vaccine will be dispensed in three African countries starting next year in a series of real-life trials to test its efficacy.

Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi were chosen as the three recipients of the vaccine, which is to be administered to infants and young children from high-risk areas via a WHO pilot program.

"Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa," said DR. Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO's regional director for Africa.

Important Facts About The Malaria Vaccine

The promising malaria vaccine bears the name of RTS,S and is delivered through injection. Also called Mosquirix, the product was created by the British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline and is designed to shield children from the most lethal form of malaria currently occurring in Africa.

To develop the vaccine, GSK partnered with the nonprofit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative and received part of the funds from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Also funding the program are Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and Unitaid.

This is the first approved vaccine against malaria and, as BBC reports, it works by training the immune system to attack the malaria parasite spread by mosquito bites.

Clinical trials for malaria showed the vaccine to be partially effective, which is why the health regulator needs to observe its results in an on-the-ground testing program before deciding whether to add it to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention.

"Information gathered in the pilot will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine," added Moeti.

Who Is Mosquirix Intended For?

Mosquirix was created for a four-dose inoculation and will be administered to children as young as 17 months but no older than 5 years old. The testing program is set to involve more than 750,000 children, half of whom will receive the first three doses once a month, followed by the fourth injection at an interval of 18 months.

The WHO pilot program aims to evaluate the vaccine's safety and effectiveness in real life, as well as the usefulness of the four-dose system and the product's impact on decreasing the pediatric death rate associated with this mosquito-borne disease.

Clinical trials showed the vaccine stopped almost four in 10 children in this age group from contracting the disease, while reducing the number of most severe cases by a third and curbing the incidence of hospitalizations and blood transfusion malaria treatments.

However, the numbers are still significantly lower compared with other approved vaccines for different diseases. The clinical trials also note the fourth dose of Mosquirix was crucial in providing the benefits of this vaccine.

The reason Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi are the first three countries worldwide to participate in the pilot program is not only due to the high prevalence of malaria in this part of the world, but also to their good malaria programs, wide use of bed nets, and well-established immunization programs.

Although each country is at liberty to choose which districts and regions will be included in the program, the WHO emphasizes high-risk areas will receive priority.

Malaria claims 430,000 lives every year, with most of the victims being babies and young children in sub-Saharan Africa. In the last decade and a half, global efforts to fight the disease have reduced the number of malaria deaths by 62 percent.

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