Malaria vaccine pilot launched in Malawi

World Health Organization

Malawi first of three in Africa to roll out landmark vaccine

GENEVA (Switzerland) 23 APRIL 2019 – The World Health Organization (WHO) has welcomed the Government of Malawi’s launch of the world’s first malaria vaccine today in a landmark pilot programme. The country is the first of three in Africa in which the vaccine, known as RTS,S, will be made available to children up to 2 years of age; Ghana and Kenya will introduce the vaccine in the coming weeks.

Malaria :
one of the world’s leading killers

Malaria
remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of one child
every two minutes. Most of these deaths are in Africa, where more than 250
000 children die from the disease every year.
Children under 5 are at
greatest risk of its life-threatening complications. Worldwide, malaria kills
435000 people a year, most of them children.

 “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. We need new solutions to get the
malaria response back on track, and this vaccine gives us a promising tool to
get there,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The
malaria vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of children’s
lives.”

 An innovation milestone, three decades in
development

Thirty years
in the making, RTS,S is the first, and to date the only, vaccine that has
demonstrated it can significantly reduce malaria in children. In clinical
trials, the vaccine was found to prevent approximately 4 in 10 malaria cases,
including 3 in 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria.

“Malaria is
a constant threat in the African communities where this vaccine will be given.
The poorest children suffer the most and are at highest risk of death,” said Dr
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “We know the power of
vaccines to prevent killer diseases and reach children, including those who may
not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they
need to save them when severe illness comes.”

“This is a
day to celebrate as we begin to learn more about what this tool can do to
change the trajectory of malaria through childhood vaccination,” she added.

The pilot
programme is designed to generate evidence and experience to inform WHO policy
recommendations on the broader use of the RTS,S malaria vaccine. It will look
at reductions in child deaths; vaccine uptake, including whether parents bring
their children on time for the four required doses; and vaccine safety in the
context of routine use.

Vaccine :
Malaria control tool

The vaccine
is a complementary malaria control tool – to be added to the core
package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention, including the
routine use of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying with insecticides,
and the timely use of malaria testing and treatment.

A model
public-private partnership

The
WHO-coordinated pilot programme is a collaborative effort with ministries of
health in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi and a range of in-country and international
partners, including PATH, a non-profit organization, and GSK, the vaccine
developer and manufacturer, which is donating up to 10 million vaccine doses
for this pilot.

“We salute
WHO and Malawi for their leadership in realizing this historic milestone,” said
Steve Davis, President and CEO of PATH, “and we look forward to the start of
vaccination in Ghana, and then Kenya later this year. A vaccine for malaria is
among many innovations needed to bring an end to this disease, and we proudly
stand with all countries and our many partners in progressing towards a
malaria-free world.”

The malaria
vaccine pilot aims to reach about 360,000 children per year across the three
countries. Ministries of health will determine where the vaccine will be given;
they will focus on areas with moderate-to-high malaria transmission, where the
vaccine can have the greatest impact.

“Delivering
the world’s first malaria vaccine will help reduce the burden of one of the
most pressing health challenges globally. This novel tool is the result of GSK
employees collaborating with their partners, applying the latest in vaccine
science to contribute to the fight against malaria,” said Dr Thomas Breuer,
Chief Medical Officer of GSK Vaccines. “We look forward to seeing the results
of the pilot, and in parallel, are working with WHO and PATH to secure the
vaccine’s sustained global health impact in the future.”

Financing
and support

Financing for the pilot programme has been mobilized through an unprecedented collaboration among three key global health funding bodies: Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Unitaid. Additionally, WHO, PATH and GSK are providing in-kind contributions.

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