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Rising hope in Africa as malaria jabs on the way

Datetime: 2021-10-08 13:59:25

The fight against malaria in sub-Saharan Africa has been given a shot in the arm following the recommendation for use of a vaccine against the disease by the World Health Organization.

In what many view as a breakthrough in the fight against the deadly disease, the WHO on Wednesday recommended widespread use of the RTS, S/AS01 malaria vaccine among children in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high P. falciparum malaria transmission.

Historic moment

"This is a historic moment," said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. "The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control. Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year."

The vaccine, developed by the British pharmaceuticals company GSK, is expected to significantly reduce life-threatening severe cases of malaria and save lives in sub-Saharan Africa, where the disease remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death.

More than 260,000 African children under the age of 5 die from malaria each year, the WHO says.

In 2018 sub-Saharan Africa accounted for about 93 percent of all malaria cases and 94 percent of deaths. More than two-thirds of deaths were among children under the age of 5.

In 2019 malaria caused an estimated 409,000 deaths globally, with 94 percent of deaths having been reported in the African region.

"For centuries malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering," said Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO regional director for Africa.

"We have long hoped for an effective malaria vaccine, and now for the first time ever we have such a vaccine recommended for widespread use. Today's recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent, which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease, and we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults."

The WHO recommended the RTS, S/AS01 vaccine, administered in four doses, based on results from a pilot program in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has reached more than 800,000 children since 2019.

According to data from the pilot program, more than two-thirds of children in the three countries who are not sleeping under a bed net are benefiting from the vaccine.