Kenya has joined the nations of Ghana and Malawi in administering a new malaria vaccine, with parts of the country participating in a pilot program offered in partnership with the World Health Organization.
The vaccine known as RTS,S has taken 30 years to develop and so far is the only vaccine proven to significantly reduce malaria in children. In clinical trials, RTS,S prevented 4 in 10 cases, and 3 in 10 of the most severe and life-threatening cases.
The success to date is critical for the African continent, which loses a quarter million of its children to malaria each year, according to WHO. Globally, malaria claims the life of a child every two minutes, and the vaccine is intended to be used alongside existing interventions such as mosquito nets.
“Africa has witnessed a recent surge in the number of malaria cases and deaths. This threatens the gains in the fight against malaria made in the past two decades,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “The ongoing pilots will provide the key information and data to inform a WHO policy on the broader use of the vaccine in sub-Saharan Africa. If introduced widely, the vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives.”
About 120,000 children per year will be vaccinated in eight counties in Kenya, where some of the RTS,S drug trials were conducted between 2009 and 2014. In addition to WHO, the program is supported by the global medical nonprofit PATH, and GSK, the vaccine developer and manufacturer, which is donating up to 10 million vaccine doses for the program.
Image: WHO file