A new vaccine against malaria known as, RTS,S, will be piloted in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi next year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).
The trials will involve more than 750,000 children aged between five and 17 months. Around half will get the vaccine in order to compare the jab’s real-world effectiveness.
WHO says the vaccine needs to be given four times – once a month for three months and then a fourth dose 18 months later.
Although experts are hopeful that the jab could save tens of thousands of lives, it is not yet clear if it will be feasible for use in the poorest parts of the world where populations are most vulnerable to malaria.
Theoretically, half of the world’s population is at risk of malaria which kills about 3000 children every day. Over one million people die from malaria each year, mostly children under five years of age, with 90 per cent of malaria cases occurring in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Commenting on the potential benefits of the RTS,S, jab, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa, said: “The prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news. Information gathered in the pilot programme will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine. Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa.”
Ghana, Kenya and Malawi were chosen for trials because they already run large programmes to tackle malaria, including the use of bed nets, yet still have high numbers of cases.
The pilots are being funded by: Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, Unitaid, the WHO and GSK.
A former WHO health expert who spoke to Team Buntu Africa on condition of anonymity said if the RTS,S, jab reduces the number of children needing hospital treatment or blood transfusions after being bitten by a malaria carrying mosquito, it will be regarded as highly beneficial.
However, he added: “Given the recent case of the negative effects of the MR vaccines in Lesotho which resulted in hundreds of children developing horrendous rashes, it is advisable that WHO should apply the highest standards of assessing the safety and effectiveness of the vaccination in the trials to be carried out in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.”