The World Health Organization (WHO) has said that it has recommended widespread use of the world’s first malaria vaccine called RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) for children in sub-Saharan Africa.
According to the WHO, the vaccine is the result of 30 years of research and development by British pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in partnership with the international non-profit organization Program for Appropriate Technology in Health (PATH) and with a network of research centers in Africa.
The WHO said on Wednesday its recommendation is based on results from more than 2.3 million doses of the vaccine that have been administered to more than 800,000 children in pilot countries Ghana, Kenya and Malawi since 2019, Xinhua news agency reported.
According to the WHO, more than two-thirds of children in the three countries who were not sleeping under a bednet were benefiting from the vaccine, bringing about a 30 percent drop in severe malaria, even when introduced in areas where insecticide-treated nets were widely used and there was good access to diagnosis and treatment.
The vaccine has a favorable safety profile, the WHO said, with no negative impact on the uptake of bednets, other childhood vaccinations, or health seeking behavior for febrile illness.
“It’s safe, it significantly reduces life-threatening severe malaria, and we estimate it to be highly cost-effective,” WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a press briefing.
According to the WHO, “the vaccine should be provided in a schedule of four doses in children from five months of age for the reduction of malaria disease and burden.”
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. It is preventable and curable.
The WHO’s records show that malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 260,000 African children under the age of five die from the disease annually.
“This long-awaited malaria vaccine is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control,” said Tedros. “This vaccine is a gift to the world, but its value will be felt most in Africa, because that’s where the burden of malaria is greatest.”