WHO approves first-ever malaria vaccine for widespread use

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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has approved the first ever malaria vaccine for children in Africa and other regions.

“This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Ghebreyesus on Wednesday. “Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”

In a statement, the global health body said it endorsed the widespread administration of the vaccine after examining results from an ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has reached more than 800,000 children since 2019.

Produced by GlaxoSmithKline, the new vaccine empowers a child’s immune system to thwart Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of five malaria pathogens and the most prevalent in Africa.

The vaccine which is not just a first for malaria but also the first developed for any parasitic disease could save the lives of tens of thousands of children in Africa each year.

Known by the brand name Mosquirix, the vaccine is administered in three doses between ages 5 and 17 months, and a fourth dose roughly 18 months later.

During clinical trials, the vaccine had an efficacy of about 50 per cent against severe malaria in the first year.

Speaking on the development, Mr Ghebreyesus said the feat was a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control.

On her part, Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, said the new vaccine offers a glimmer of hope to Africa, which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease.

“For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering,” said Ms Moeti. “We have long hoped for an effective malaria vaccine and now for the first time ever, we have such a vaccine recommended for widespread use.”

Today’s recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease and we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults,” she added.

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 malaria annually.

Pharmaceutical companies that had provided funding for the pilot programme were among three key global health funding bodies including Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Unitaid.

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