The World Health Organization (WHO) has approved the widespread use of the RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) malaria vaccine among children in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high P. falciparum malaria transmission. WHO reports that this came based on results from an ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has reached more than 800 000 children since 2019.
The financing for the pilot program was mobilized through an unprecedented collaboration among the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; and Unitaid.
“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.” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO Director-General.
Malaria is one of the major causes of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. WHO reports that every year, over 260 000 African children under the age of five die from malaria. Recently, WHO and its partners have been reporting a stunt in the progress against malaria.
“For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “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 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.”
Based on the advice of two WHO global advisory bodies, one for immunization and the other for malaria, the Organization recommends that:
WHO recommends that in the context of comprehensive malaria control the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine be used for the prevention of P. falciparum malaria in children living in regions with moderate to high transmission as defined by WHO. RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine should be provided in a schedule of 4 doses in children from 5 months of age for the reduction of malaria disease and burden.
“That will be the next major step… Then we will be set up for scaling of doses and decisions about where the vaccine will be most useful and how it will be deployed,” said Kate O’Brien, Director of WHO’s Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals
According to the WHO, the next steps for the malaria vaccine will include funding decisions from the global health community for broader rollout and they also await countries deciding whether they will adopt the vaccine as part of their national malaria control strategies.