Kenya, Ghana, Malawi Get World’s First Vaccine Against Malaria

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Apr 28, 2017 01:12 PM EDT

Ghana, Kenya and Malawi will be getting the world's first vaccine against malaria starting next year.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Office for Africa made the announcement earlier this week that the world's first vaccine against malaria will be introduced in the three African countries.

RTS,S, an injectable vaccine, was developed to protect young children from the most deadly form of malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum. According to WHO, the vaccine will be assessed in the pilot program as a complementary malaria control tool that could potentially be added to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention.

"The prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news," Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said in a news release.

She added that the information gathered in the pilot will help make the agency's decisions on the wider use of this vaccine.

Moeti said combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa.

The RTS,S vaccine needs to be administered four times: once  a month for three months and then a fourth dose after 18 months.

This has been achieved in tightly controlled and well-funded clinical trials, but it is not yet clear if it can be done in the "real-world" where access to health care is limited. Hence the reason why the United Nation's health agency is running pilots in three countries to see if a full malaria vaccine program could be started. It will also continue to assess the safety and effectiveness of the vaccination.

According to WHO, Africa bears the greatest burden of malaria worldwide. In the last 15 years, global efforts have led to a 62 percent reduction in malaria deaths between 2000 and 2015, but still, about 429,000 people have died of the disease in 2015, the majority of them young children in Africa.

The coordinated rollout was announced as the international community marks World Malaria Day, which celebrates the widespread use of vaccines that protect people against 26 diseases. WHO stated overall, vaccines prevent an estimated two to three million deaths each year. The rollout is also the start of the World Immunization Week from April 24 to 30.

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