Joined to fight the threat of malaria, the governments of Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi have launched a landmark vaccine pilot program known as RTS,S.
Malaria is estimated to kill a child every two minutes and is a leading killer of children in Kenya. As such, a major goal of the new vaccine is its availability to the youngest. It will be usable by children from 6 months of age onward through a phased pilot introduction throughout eight countries of Kenya. The end goal is to vaccinate as many as 120,000 children per year.
To date, RTS,S is the first and only vaccine to significantly fight malaria in children.
“Africa has witnessed a recent surge in the number of malaria cases and deaths,” Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa, said. “This threatens the gains in the fight against malaria made in the past two decades. The ongoing pilots will provide the key information and data to inform a WHO policy on the broader use of the vaccine in sub-Saharan Africa. If introduced widely, the vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives.”
The vaccine has been under development for 30 years. The World Health Organization intends to add it to its core package of recommended measures for malaria prevention, maximizing efficacy through uses of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor insecticides, and timely access to malaria testing and treatment.
Financing for the program was provided primarily through the collaboration of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria; and Unitaid.
“Vaccines are powerful tools that effectively reach and better protect the health of children who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes,” Dr. Rudi Eggers, WHO Representative to Kenya, said. “This is a day to celebrate as we begin to learn more about what this vaccine can do to change the trajectory of malaria through childhood vaccination.”