MALARIA, seven letters word, world’s most dreaded and life-threatening disease, caused by parasites transmitted to people through bites from infected female Anopheles mosquitoes, is in the news. This time, for the right cause. Large-scale trial of what is described as “world’s first malaria vaccine” that will provide partial protection to children is due for test in Malawi.
Recent annual malaria report, indicates that after significant period of progress in global malaria control, progress has been hindered. Figures from 2015 to 2017, according to World Health Organization, WHO, shows no significant progress in reducing global malaria cases within the period. Estimated 219 million cases and 435,000 related deaths were reported in 2017.
Over 90 per cent of 219 million cases and 435,000 who died were in Africa. Children are particularly vulnerable. WHO reports show that “every year there are more than 200 million new cases of malaria”, a disease it said is presentable and treatable.
Malawi test, known as RTS,S vaccine, trains immune system to attack the malaria parasite, spread by mosquito bites. Smaller trials showed that about 40 per cent of 5 to 17 months-old children who received the vaccine were protected.
In 2017, there were five million confirmed cases in Malawi, and was chosen along with Kenya and Ghana for the “large-scale pilot of the RTS,S vaccine” test. These countries were picked for having vast programmes to tackle malaria, including use of bed nets, yet have high cases of malaria.
Scientists from drugs manufacturing company, GSK, introduced the vaccine in 1987, and has been on-the-works for over three decades. Several organizations, including Path Malaria Vaccine Initiative have supported years of testing the vaccine; with estimated cost of $1 billion, equivalent of £770 million, which has brought the project to this point.
WHO, is coordinating the latest phase of the programme, and the vaccine is the first to provide some protection to children. It has about 40 per cent efficacy, according to WHO, which it ways is not high enough in comparison with vaccines for other diseases; but said RTS,S will add to other preventative measures—such as bed nets and insecticides, already in use.
“A vaccine that is highly efficacious, 90% or so, that’s not in view at this point,” the WHO’s Mary Hamel is quoted by Bloomberg as saying. “But this vaccine getting to where it is shows that a malaria vaccine can be made. It will be a pathfinder.”
According to Path, the vaccine needs to be given four times—one a month for three months—then a fourth does 18 months later. The trial stage is expected to be completed by 2023, while the pilot begins in Malawi and extend to Kenya and Ghana in coming weeks.