The World Health Organization (WHO) has chosen Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi to test the world’s first injectable malaria vaccine next year.
The malaria vaccine has been under development for decades by GlaxoSmithKline. The 49 million dollar phase-one pilot is being funded by the global vaccine alliance GAVI, UNITAID and Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. The vaccine will be administered to at least 120,000 high-risk children, 5 to 17 months old to test its viability outside of clinical trials.
Malaria spreads when a mosquito bites someone infected with the disease and bites another person, transferring the blood and parasites from one person to another. Malaria infects more than 200 million people and kills half a million every year, most of them children in Africa. Currently, bed netting and insecticides are the main defense against infection.
WHO regional director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti stated, that the malaria vaccine is partially effective, yet has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives if used with existing protective measures. The main challenge is ensuring each child receives the required four doses of the vaccine. According to reports, Sub-Saharan Africa is hit hardest by the disease (90 percent of the world’s cases in 2015).
Although there has been resistance to both drugs and insecticides used to kill mosquitoes, WHO is projecting to wipe out malaria by 2040.
“The slow progress in this field is astonishing, given that malaria has been around for millennia and has been a major force for human evolutionary selection, shaping the genetic profiles of African populations. Contrast this pace of change with our progress in the treatment of HIV, a disease a little more than three decades old,” Kathryn Maitland, professor of tropical pediatric infectious diseases at Imperial College London, wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine in December.
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