Finally, WHO okays first malaria vaccine for most vulnerable children

October 7, 2021

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has finally endorsed widespread use of the first malaria vaccine, RTS, S/AS01 (RTS, S), among children in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high Plasmodium falciparum transmission. The recommendation followed results from an ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has covered more than 800 000 children since 2019.

Plasmodium falciparum is the malaria parasite.

The Guardian has since 2015 been reporting the progress made in the development of RTS, S malaria vaccine and other similar products.

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

The global agency observed that malaria remains the primary cause of childhood illnesses and deaths in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 260,000 African children under the age of five die from the disease yearly.

In recent years, WHO and its partners have been reporting a stagnation in progress against the deadly ailment.

Regional Director for Africa, WHO, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, noted: “For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering. 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 (yesterday) 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.”

The organisation recommended that in the context of comprehensive malaria control, the RTS, S/AS01 vaccine should be used for the prevention of P. falciparum malaria in children living in regions with moderate to high transmission as defined by WHO.

The RTS, S/AS01 malaria treatment should be provided in a schedule of four doses in children from five months of age for the reduction of the disease and its burden.

Key findings of the project informed the recommendation based on data and insights generated from two years of vaccination in child health clinics in the three pilot countries implemented under the leadership of the Ministries of Health of Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.