In a historic move, the World Health Organization (WHO) today, has endorsed the first anti-malarial vaccine, as mankind enters a key turning point in a battle waged relentlessly over decades between man and the mosquito.
In a press conference that went live on social media, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “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.”
The WHO said today Wednesday that it was recommending 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, based on results from an ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.
The development comes at a time when the WHO and its partners have reported a stagnation in the progress against the disease that kills more than 2,60,000 African children under the age of five annually. Malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa, according to the WHO.
“For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering,” said WHO Regional Director for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti. “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.”
The vaccine does significantly reduce life-threatening severed malaria, Dr. Tedros said, but added that, “It’s not the only tool. Vaccination against malaria does not replace or reduce the need for other measures, including bed nets.”
RTS,S was first authorised in 2015 by the European Medicines Agency for use in Africa in infants and children.