Researchers and health professionals have been celebrating after the World Health Organization (WHO) approved the widespread use of the world’s first malaria vaccine. With more than 260,000 children under five dying from malaria each year in sub-Saharan Africa, this development, decades in the making, could save tens of thousands of lives, the WHO says.
The vaccine was proven effective six years ago, preventing 40% of malaria cases and 30% of severe cases. Since 2019, researchers have been carrying out wider pilot immunisation programmes in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.
Health authorities are also keen to stress this is a new weapon in the fight against malaria to be used alongside other preventative measures, such as treated bed nets and drugs that target the malaria parasite. The vaccine targets the most deadly and common parasite in Africa: Plasmodium falciparum.
It tries to deal with the form of the parasite which enters the victim’s blood shortly after being bitten, by partially blocking access into human cells and therefore preventing disease, Dr Alonso said. The pilot programmes in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi will continue. GSK says it has donated 10 million doses for the study and so far a quarter of those have been used.