The World Health Organization has recommended widespread use of the malaria vaccine among children in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions.
RTS,S/AS01 is the first, and to date, the only vaccine that has demonstrated it can significantly reduce malaria, and life-threatening severe malaria, in young African children.
WHO bases its recommendation on results from an ongoing pilot program in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has reached more than 800 000 children since 2019.
“This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom, WHO director-general on Wednesday.
“Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”
Malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 260,000 African children under the age of five die from malaria annually.
In South Sudan, approximately 95% of the country is endemic for malaria, with high transmission in the country throughout the year, according to South Sudan Medical Journal.
It says malaria accounts for 20-40% of all health facility visits, 30% of all hospital admissions, and is a main cause of death (Malaria Consortium).
Malaria is the leading cause of illness and death in children under five years. It also contributes to anemia in children, and in pregnancy can lead to morbidity and mortality.
“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.”
Summary of key findings of the malaria vaccine pilots, according to the UN health agency
Feasible to deliver: Vaccine introduction is feasible, improves health and saves lives, with good and equitable coverage of RTS,S seen through routine immunization systems. This occurred even in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reaching the unreached: RTS,S increases equity in access to malaria prevention.
Data from the pilot program showed that more than two-thirds of children in the 3 countries who are not sleeping under a bednet are benefitting from the RTS,S vaccine.
Layering the tools results in over 90% of children benefitting from at least one preventive intervention (insecticide treated bednets or the malaria vaccine).
Strong safety profile: To date, more than 2.3 million doses of the vaccine have been administered in 3 African countries – the vaccine has a favorable safety profile.
No negative impact on uptake of bednets, other childhood vaccinations, or health seeking behavior for febrile illness. In areas where the vaccine has been introduced, there has been no decrease in the use of insecticide-treated nets, uptake of other childhood vaccinations or health seeking behavior for febrile illness.
High impact in real-life childhood vaccination settings: Significant reduction (30%) in deadly severe malaria, even when introduced in areas where insecticide-treated nets are widely used and there is good access to diagnosis and treatment.
Highly cost-effective: Modelling estimates that the vaccine is cost effective in areas of moderate to high malaria transmission.
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