World

WHO approves ‘landmark’ malaria vaccine for at-risk children

The vaccine is intended for children in sub-Saharan Africa and other areas with moderate to high transmission.

The recommendation to start using the RTS, S vaccine is based on an ongoing pilot program implemented by WHO and partners in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, which has reached more than 800,000 children since 2019.

“The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, children’s health and the fight against malaria,” said the WHO Managing Director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “Using this vaccine in addition to existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives every year.”

Stagnation in progress

Tedros said the world has made “incredible progress” in the fight against malaria over the past two decades.

The malaria parasite is mainly transmitted by infectious mosquitoes and carried in the blood after being bitten. It is not contagious from person to person, and symptoms include a flu-like fever, nausea and vomiting, and if left untreated it can be fatal, killing over 400,000 people each year in the world.

Since 2000, deaths have fallen by more than half and the disease has been eliminated in many parts of the world.

For the WHO chief, however, progress has stalled at an unacceptable level, with more than 200 million cases still occurring each year. Two-thirds of those who die from the disease are children under five in Africa.

Decimated childhoods

Malaria remains one of the leading causes of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 260,000 African children under the age of five die from malaria each year.

WHO Regional Director for Africa, Matshidiso Moeti, said that โ€œfor centuries malaria has haunted sub-Saharan Africa causing immense personal sufferingโ€.

“We have long hoped for an effective vaccine against malaria and now, for the first time, we have such a vaccine recommended for widespread use,” she said.

For Ms. Moeti, today’s recommendation โ€œoffers a glimmer of hope for the continent that bears the heaviest burden of disease and we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and become children. healthy adults โ€.

Recommendations

Based on advice from two WHO global advisory bodies, one for immunization and the other for malaria, the United Nations Agency made a series of specific recommendations.

Immunization should be given in areas of moderate to high transmission, on a four dose schedule, in children from five months of age.

According to Tedros, the pilot study showed that the vaccine can be easily administered in child health clinics of ministries of health, reaching children with high coverage. There is a great demand from the community, and it has โ€œa wide reach for children, including the most vulnerable who may not use a netโ€ to keep mosquitoes away, and it is very cost effective.

Deaths reduced by one third

To date, over 2.3 million doses of the vaccine have been administered, showing a favorable safety profile.

The vaccine has shown a significant reduction (30%) in fatal severe malaria, even when introduced to areas where insecticide-treated bednets are widely used and where there is good access to diagnosis and treatment.

The study showed that vaccine distribution did not negatively impact the use of bed nets, other childhood vaccinations, or care-seeking behavior for other febrile illnesses.

Next steps will include funding decisions from the global health community for wider deployment and country decision making on whether to adopt the vaccine as part of national malaria control strategies.

โ€œIt’s a powerful new tool, but as COVID-19[female[feminine vaccines, this is not the only tool, โ€stressed Tedros. Vaccination against malaria does not replace or reduce the need for other measures, including bed nets, or seeking treatment for fever.




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