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Malaria vaccine hits Malawi first

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After decades of dithering about ridding Africa and the world of malaria, Western medical firms finally allow a vaccine; to be tested on Malawian and, later, Kenyan children.

Malawi launches pilot of world’s first malaria vaccine

By Allie Nawrat, technology.com

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced that the Government of Malawi has immunised the first children with RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S), the world’s first malaria vaccine.

This move is part of a WHO-coordinated three country pilot programme, which will also include Ghana and Kenya, where the risk of malaria is high and there has been previous success with other childhood vaccines. It aims to reach 360,000 children per year across the three countries.

The pilot will allow the WHO and its partners to assess the feasibility of administering the four doses of the vaccine, RTS,S’s full role in reducing childhood deaths and establish the vaccine’s safety profile in a routine use context.

WHO regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said: “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.

“This is a day to celebrate as we begin to learn more about what this tool can do to change the trajectory of malaria through childhood vaccination.”

RTS,S has been in development since the 1980s by researchers at pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK). In 2001, GSK partnered with healthcare non-profit organisation PATH to focus the development of RTS,S for use in children; this was supported by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

A Phase III study of 15,500 infants in seven African countries conducted between 2009 and 2014 demonstrated that children receiving four doses of RTS,S experienced significant reductions in malaria and malaria-related complications. This made it the first vaccine to provide partial protection against malaria for young children.

According to the WHO, during the trial, RTS,S prevented four in ten cases of clinical malaria, three in ten cases of severe malaria and six in ten cases of severe malaria anaemia, which is the most common cause of death for children with malaria.

As a result of this promising data, the European Medicines Agency issued a positive scientific opinion of the vaccine in July 2015. This means that the vaccine meets the standards for medical products approved in the European Union.

During the pilot, PATH will carry out a quantitative study on healthcare utilisation to try to understand why people use or do not use the vaccine, assess the economics of vaccine immunisation and to get a more complete sense of the cost of widespread use of the vaccine.

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