WHO approves world’s first malaria vaccine - how deadly is the infection and who will benefit?

Malaria is most deadly in children under five-year-old and killed over 400,000 people in 2019

<p>A sick baby is seen at a makeshift paediatric health centre as an outbreak of malaria hit an African village (Picture: Getty Images)</p>

A sick baby is seen at a makeshift paediatric health centre as an outbreak of malaria hit an African village (Picture: Getty Images)

In an attempt to eradicate the deadly parasite infection Malaria, the World Health Organization (WHO) is to offer a groundbreaking vaccine to children across Africa.

WHO has now approved 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.

‘Historic moment’

On 6 October, the organisation’s Director General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced the approval, describing it as an “historic moment,”.

“Using this vaccine on top of existing  tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year,” he added.

The seal of approval comes following results from an ongoing trial which has now reached over 800,000 children in  Ghana, Kenya and Malawi since 2019.

How deadly is malaria?

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 2019, nearly half of the world's population was at risk of malaria. Most malaria cases and deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. However, the WHO regions of South-East Asia, Eastern Mediterranean, Western Pacific, and the Americas are also at risk.

Children under the age of five are most vulnerable to Malaria (Picture: Getty Images)

In 2019, there were 229 million malaria cases worldwide.

That year, 67% of the 409,000 malaria-caused deaths occurred in children under five.

The disease is preventable and curable, though this is the first time WHO have recommended a vaccine for widespread use in Africa.

Thousands of children in Africa have been given mosquito nets to sleep behind, in a bid to prevent mosquito bites (Picture: Getty Images)

What causes malaria?

Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.

In a statement,  Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa said the illness has “stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering,” for hundreds of years.

As the vaccine was approved, she said: “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.”

What happens now the vaccine has been approved?

WHO has recommended the vaccine for children living in regions of sub-Saharan Africa where the infection has a moderate to high transmission, as defined by WHO.

The malaria vaccine will be given to children from the age of five months.  Four doses will be given overall.

WHO’s findings of the pilot scheme suggest the vaccination programme is affordable, effective and provides equality of access to prevention for the disease.

So far, of the children vaccinated, two thirds had no access to a mosquito net while sleeping.

The organisation has calculated that the combination of providing mosquito nets and vaccinating will allow over 90 percent of children to benefit from at least one preventative measure.

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