For centuries, malaria has plagued humanity. Among one of the most infectious diseases known to man, it has killed children and adults in droves over the ages. Today, the prevalence of the parasitic disease is mostly in Sub-Saharan Africa where more than 500,000 lives are reportedly lost each year, most of them children younger than five. It is against this backdrop that the announcement of a successful vaccine against malaria has been celebrated as a milestone.
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) (C) AP News
Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), while endorsing the vaccine on Wednesday, October 6, hailed it as a historic moment.
“The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health, and malaria control, it could save tens of thousands of young lives each year,” Dr. Tedros said.
A single mosquito bite suffices to cause malaria and possible death (C) Health One Family Medicine
Several attempts at developing a vaccine against malaria have been made in the past one hundred years but all were unsuccessful due to the complexity of the malaria parasite over other pathogens. The new vaccine is called Mosquirix or RTS.S and is developed by the pharmaceutical company known as GlaxoSmithKline.
The vaccine which trains the immune system to attack the malaria parasite spread by mosquito bites is being rolled out after successful pilot immunization programs in Kenya, Malawi, and Ghana. The vaccine is given in three doses between ages 5 and 17 months, and a fourth dose roughly 18 months later.
Fighting malaria by escaping mosquito bites has never been easy (C) DW
Dr. Kwame Amponsa-Achiano who led the pilot immunization program in Ghana to assess whether mass vaccination was feasible and effective speaks of the distressing toll that malaria has had on his family from his childhood. He now testifies “It is quite an exciting moment for us, with large scale vaccination I believe the malaria toll will be reduced to the barest minimum”.
Dr. Kwame Amponsa-Achiano led the pilot immunization program in Ghana (C) YouTube
Some have criticized the new malaria vaccine for its low efficacy rates and questioned if it is worthwhile investing in. However, the WHO expert advisory group on the vaccine points to its relative safety and cost-effectiveness among other reasons to invest in it.
Dr. Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme asserts that “From a scientific perspective, this is a massive breakthrough, from a public health perspective this is a historical feat…We’ve been looking for a malaria vaccine for over 100 years now, it will save lives and prevent disease in African children.”