Malawi became the first ever country to launch a pilot programme for an anti-Malaria vaccine. Ghana and Kenya are set to follow next week.
The vaccine is known as RTS,S and its brand name is Mosquirix. British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, the vaccine's manufacturer, is donating millions of doses of the drug.
World's Leading Killer
Up to this day, Malaria remains one of the most deadly diseases, with a child dying every two minutes. These deaths are mostly from Africa where more than 250,000 children die from the disease every year. Children who are below 5 years old are most prone to Malaria's life-threatening implications.
"We have seen tremendous gains from bed nets and other measures to control malaria in the last 15 years, but progress has stalled and even reversed in some areas," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization.
"We need new solutions to get the malaria response back on track, and this vaccine gives us a promising tool to get there. The malaria vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of children's lives."
Children between 5 months and two years old will be vaccinated starting Tuesday, April 23, until 2022. By that time, 360,000 children a year will be given access to the drug across three countries.
3 Decades In Development
GSK started developing the drug in 1987, and an early trial of the drug began in 2009. There are 15,000 infants who participated in the clinical study for five years. Results showed that 40 percent of malaria infections have been prevented around 30 percent of acute cases.
According to Dr. Schellenberg of WHO, the vaccine is not a magic bullet, and the drug will add to the already existing Malaria preventive measures, such as insecticides and bed nets. Still, he lauded the project as a huge success.
Four doses of the drug are needed to complete the vaccination: once a month for three months and then a fourth dose 18 months later. Schellenberg knows it can be a challenge for some mothers to complete the four-dose vaccine, as it doesn't coincide with the pre-existing vaccinations.
Three global health fundies were responsible for the success of the drug, aside from GSK. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Unitaid, and Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance all collaborated to fund the whole project. PATH, a global non-profit health organization, also made in-kind contributions.