Malaria is considered an easily treatable disease today in the developed world. However, according to the World Health Organization, in 2015 alone, malaria caused 429,000 deaths worldwide. Malaria mortality rate has reduced by 29 percent since 2010 due to better prevention, but the disease remains a huge concern in most of Africa. WHO has announced that the first-ever malaria vaccine trials will be conducted in three African countries next year.
The regional director of WHO, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said in a statement:
“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.”
The first RTS,S vaccine trials in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi will be conducted on more than 750,000 children of ages between 5-17 months, according to the BBC. The vaccine has shown success in lab experiments, but researchers are not sure how well it will perform in the real world scenarios which are not controlled like the lab environment. That is the reason, the pilot program will be running only in three countries, and not all of Africa.
The vaccine is not a one time shot as it requires an intensive treatment program. Everyone who is treated will require a shot every month for three months, and another one 18 months later. If the patient fails to receive all four, the effectiveness of the vaccine is significantly reduced. Such a prolonged treatment, spanning over nearly two years is not feasible for the poorest nations on Earth.
It has been found that 4 out of 10 cases of malaria can be prevented if the complete treatment is administered to children. The results do not sound very promising this way, but according to WHO, it adds up to tens of thousands of lives. The vaccine is also thought to cut down the total malaria cases by a third.
When the vaccine treatment is coupled with other preventive measures like mosquito nets, it can prove even more beneficial. The reason why Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi are chosen for the first trials is that they have already established extensive malaria prevention programs. The country itself will select the region in each state for running the pilot program. The results of these trials will decide the large-scale feasibility of the vaccine for other malaria-stricken parts of the world.