Kenya launches the world’s first malaria vaccine


Sunday September 15, 2019

A health worker poised to give the first ever dose of a malaria vaccine outside a clinical trial CREDIT: AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP  CREDIT: AMOS GUMULIRA /GETTY

Kenya has become the third country in Africa to roll out the world’s first malaria vaccine today, joining Malawi and Ghana in a two-year trial.

The vaccine, known as RTS,S, has been 30 years in the making and is hailed as a landmark vaccine against the disease.

Malaria kills one child globally every two minutes and is the leading killer of children in Kenya under the age of five. Worldwide the disease kills 435,000 people a year, most of them children.

The vaccine will be available to children from six months old in eight counties, and aims to reach approximately 120,000 children in Kenya per year. Around 360,000 children will receive the vaccine across Kenya, Malawi and Ghana.

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 Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the World Health Organization Regional Director for Africa, said: “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.

“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.”

It is the first and only vaccine to significantly reduce malaria in children. However, the results from the clinical trials were not as strong as expected, with the vaccine preventing four out of 10 cases of malaria. In response, WHO decided to launch a pilot programme to evaluate its effectiveness.

The pilot programme is designed to generate evidence and experience to inform WHO policy recommendations on the broader use of the vaccine.

It will look at reductions in child deaths and cases; vaccine uptake, including whether parents bring their children on time for the four required doses; vaccine safety; and value for money

WHO’s expert committees on immunisation and malaria will consider the evidence of the pilot programme and WHO is committed to following the “path of evidence,” said Professor Kate O’Brien, director of the organisation’s department of immunisation, vaccines and biologicals.

The vaccine, developed by UK drug firm GSK, has to be given in four doses: children receive three doses between the ages of five and nine months and a booster dose at their second birthday.

Prof O’Brien said that the introduction of the vaccine was a milestone in the fight against the disease.

She added: “It’s an imperfect vaccine against a complex disease. But it has significant potential to save lives and deliver on the health aspirations we have for all children around the world.”

RTS,S, first developed in 1987 by GSK, aims to trigger the immune system to defend against the first stages of malaria when the Plasmodium falciparum parasite enters the human host’s bloodstream through a mosquito bite.

The vaccine is designed to prevent the parasite from infecting the liver, where it can mature, multiply, re-enter the bloodstream, and infect red blood cells, which can lead to disease symptoms.

The programme is a collaboration with the ministries of health in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi and a range of in-country and international partners. It’s been funded by three organisations: Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria and Unitaid.

The vaccine is a complementary malaria control tool, to be used alongside insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying with insecticides and timely access to malaria testing and treatment.

To mark the historic moment, health officials, community leaders and health advocates gathered to celebrate and watch the ceremonial first vaccination of a six-month old child in Homa Bay County, Western Kenya.

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