The First Ever Malaria Vaccine For Children

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Today(Tuesday 23rd April) marks the beginning of Africa conquering the battle of malaria. For many years Africa has lost hundreds of thousands lives due to malaria especially pregnant women and children.

Now, the malaria vaccine for children has been released and Malawi is the first African country to start a pilot programme.

“Malaria is still a tragically deadly disease. There are over 250,000 deaths of children in Africa every year because of malaria,” Mary Hamel, World Health Organization coordinator for the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme, told dpa.

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“It’s intolerable, the devastating effect for the families, societies,” she added. “It’s the potential to save so many children’s lives that makes this vaccine so exciting.”

Malawi is one of three African nations, including Ghana and Kenya, that have been chosen to pilot the new vaccine, which took some 30 years to develop.

The WHO-coordinated Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme is a collaborative effort with the ministries of health in those three countries.

Named RTS,S, it “is the world’s first malaria vaccine that has been shown to provide partial protection against malaria in young children,” according to the WHO.

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In a clinical trial, children who received doses of the vaccine – developed by GlaxoSmithKline – had a lower chance of developing malaria, the WHO says, as well as of developing severe malaria.

A study showed the vaccine prevented about four in 10 malaria cases among children and “overall, there were 29-per-cent fewer cases of severe malaria in children who received the vaccine.”

The vaccine requires four shots for children starting from about age 5 months to 2 years.

The pilot programme – expected to last until the end of 2022 – now aims to reach some 360,000 children per year across the three countries.

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Like impregnated mosquito nets, the vaccine isn’t a perfect solution, with Hamel noting “there is hope that this vaccine could be improved further.”

However, it is hoped it can still bring significant advances, and save tens of thousands of children’s lives. she said.

These sentiments were echoed by Pedro Alonso, director of WHO’s Global Malaria Programme. “The fight against malaria is one where we use imperfect tools; only when we combine them can we achieve great impact. This malaria vaccine adds a tool to our toolkit,” he told dpa.

Financing for the pilot programme is provided by Gavi, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and others.

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