The first real-world testing of the malaria vaccine will begin in 2018 in the African nations of Ghana, Kenya and Malawi after the success of RTS,S has been demonstrated in clinical trials as announced by the World Health Organization ahead of World Malaria Day on April 25.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, expressed hope for the new vaccine’s trial there:
“The prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news. Information gathered in the pilot will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine. Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa.”
One of the main concerns about the RTS,S is the feasibility of its use in the parts of the world that are most impacted by malaria, as are many of the countries in Africa. The malaria vaccine requires four doses to be effective, the first three doses given one month apart for the first three months with the fourth dose to be given 18 months later.
In the more developed parts of the world where access to health care is more prevalent, the concerns for maintaining the vaccine’s schedule would be far less of a factor. In many areas of Africa, where malaria is most prevalent, such access to health care is spotty at best, giving rise to the concerns of WHO and other public health officials about the practical aspects of the vaccine’s timely administrations.
The pilot program in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi will involve about 750,000 children between the ages of 5 months to 17 months of age. Half of those children will receive the RTS,S malaria vaccine while the other half will not so that public health officials can measure the effectiveness of the vaccine outside of clinical trials.
The three countries chosen for the pilot malaria vaccine program were also three of the seven countries in which clinical trials were conducted between 2009 and 2014 by developer GSK, partnered with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. The first phase of the pilot program, where the malaria vaccine will be delivered through the nations’ routine national immunization programs, will be funded by a partnership of “Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and UNITAID, are partnering to provide US$49.2 million for the first phase of the pilot programme (2017-2020) which will be complemented by in-kind contributions from WHO and GSK.”
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