Malaria claims the life of one child every two minutes, making it one of the world's leading killers. Most of these deaths occur in Africa where more than 250,000 children die from the disease every year. Children under 5 are at greatest risk of its life-threatening complications. Worldwide, malaria kills 435,000 people a year, most of them children. A vaccine for malaria is, therefore, a great scientific discovery especially for the continent of Africa.
RTS,S is the world's first licensed malaria vaccine and also the first vaccine licensed for use against a human parasitic disease of any kind. The vaccine was conceived and created in the late 1980s, approved for use by European regulators in July 2015, and, finally, in April 2019, was launched as a pilot project in Africa involving three countries: Malawi, Kenya, and Ghana. The government of Malawi rolled out its program on 23rd April and Ghana and Kenya will be following closely with their programs in the following weeks.
In clinical trials, the vaccine was found to prevent approximately 4 in 10 malaria cases, including 3 in 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria.
“Malaria is a constant threat in the African communities where this vaccine will be given. The poorest children suffer the most and are at highest risk of death,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “We know the power of vaccines to prevent killer diseases and reach children, including those who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes.”
The vaccine comes at an especially good time as, due to climate change, mosquitoes are surviving and proliferating more, endangering billions of people even in non-endemic places such as Canada and Europe. But, while this is a future threat for Canada & Europe, it is an ever-present and continuous threat for Africa.
Header Image Credit: Infectious Disease Hub