WHO makes history by approving the world’s first malaria vaccine

Malaria has been documented since as early as 2700 BC.

WHO makes history by approving the world’s first malaria vaccine
(Image via Liberia Public Radio)

In a landmark move, the World Health Organization (WHO) green-lit the rollout of vaccines against one of the oldest known and deadliest infectious diseases in history: malaria

As first reported by The New York Times, the WHO has endorsed the inoculation ofRTS, S/AS01 (RTS,S) vaccine, brand name Mosquirix, made by UK-based pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline. Per the Times report, the novel vaccine works by rousing a child’s immune system to thwart Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of five malaria pathogens and the most prevalent in Africa. 

“This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control,” said WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in WHO’s official report. “Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”

The initial rollout was piloted in poor countries in Africa where the effects of malaria are worst felt. During a large-scale pilot program coordinated with the WHO in 2019, 2.3 million jabs of Mosquirix have been administered to infants in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi. 

Now that the vaccine has been approved, the vaccine could potentially save the lives of tens of thousands of children annually against a disease that kills hundreds of thousands on a yearly basis, including more than 260,000 African children under the age of five. 

By Times’ projection, an estimated 5.4 million cases and 23,000 deaths could be prevented should the vaccine be distributed to countries with the highest incidence of malaria.

“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,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti. “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.”

1024px Anopheles stephensi
(Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Malaria is often contracted through a parasite often carried by the female Anopheles mosquito or “marsh mosquitoes,” and can often affect an individual repeatedly. While the disease is not fatal, the recurring infection may permanently impair one’s immune system, opening them up to a wide array of other pathogens.

Art Daniella Sison

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