On Wednesday, Oct. 6, The World Health Organization (WHO) endorsed the world’s first malaria vaccine, Mosquirix, which has been under development by pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline since 1987.
The vaccine is being heralded as having the potential to “dramatically change” how the African continent of 1.3 billion people fights the disease that claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year.
The WHO’s endorsement comes after clinical trials were carried out in three African countries, Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, where more than 800,00 children have received the vaccine since 2019.
John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told an online press briefing on Thursday that the new malaria vaccine is “a game changer.”
The news has been met with excitement in Africa, where 94 percent of the world’s malaria cases were reported in 2019, according to the WHO World Malaria Report 2020.
According to the WHO report, 229 million new malaria infections were recorded in 2019 with the disease claiming approximately 409,000 lives in the same time period.
According to the WHO, “Each year, more than 400 000 people die of malaria – a preventable and treatable disease. An estimated two thirds of deaths are among children under the age of five.”
In 2019, malaria killed upwards of 386,000 people in Africa representing more than 90 percent of the global total. Six African countries account for more than half of all malaria deaths across the world.
The Mosquirix malaria vaccine has a limited efficacy of about 30 percent in preventing severe malaria; however is the most effective protection created after decades of unsuccessful attempts to find protection against the disease.
“In Nigeria, the world’s most affected country with 27% of the global malaria burden, officials said they hope Africa’s most populous country will get priority when distribution of the vaccine begins,” the Associated Press (AP) reported.
Perpetua Uhomoibhi, national coordinator of the National Malaria Elimination Program, told AP, “The Nigeria government and partners have to be proactive in providing the necessary guidelines, infrastructure and logistics ready so that when the vaccine becomes available, we are ready for full implementation.”
According to James Tibenderana of the Malaria Consortium, the vaccine is said to be most effective in combination with an existing mix of proven malaria interventions which includes the use of seasonal malaria chemoprevention (SMC) alongside insecticide nets, parasite-based diagnosis and case management, AP reported.