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WHO recommends use of world's first malaria vaccine for children
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 06 - 10 - 2021

In what it called a "historic" move, the World Health Organization (WHO) said Wednesday it has recommended widespread use of the world's first and only malaria vaccine among children in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions where there are moderate to high levels of malaria transmission.
The recommendation was based on results from an ongoing pilot program of vaccinations in child health clinics across Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, according to WHO.
The program, launched in 2019, demonstrated that the RTS,S/AS01 vaccine is safe, cost-effective, feasible to deliver and significantly reduced deadly severe malaria by about 30%, WHO said in a news release.
"This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in the news release.
"Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year."
The RTS,S, or Mosquirix, is a vaccine developed by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK.L), and could play a major role in the struggle to eradicate malaria deaths.
Malaria is among the primary causes of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa, and more than 260,000 African children under the age of five die from malaria annually, according to WHO.
"For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering," Matshidiso Moeti, WHO's regional director for Africa, said in Wednesday's news release.
"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," Moeti said.
"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 latest development marks another milestone in the global war against malaria, which kills hundreds of thousands of people globally every year.
According to the WHO data, there were 229 million cases of malaria in 2019 compared to 228 million cases in 2018. The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 409,000 in 2019, compared with 411,000 deaths in 2018.
Africa is the hardest-hit region by the disease, accounting for 94 percent of all malaria cases and deaths.
In 2019, six countries accounted for approximately half of all malaria deaths worldwide: Nigeria (23%), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (11%), Tanzania (5%), Burkina Faso (4%), Mozambique (4%) and Niger (4% each).
The WHO notes that children under 5 years of age are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria. In 2019, they accounted for 67 percent (274,000) of all malaria deaths worldwide.
Tedros said the "highly cost-effective" vaccine has been found to reduce life-threatening severe malaria.
"Malaria has been with us for millennia, and the dream of a malaria vaccine has been a long-held but unattainable dream," the WHO chief said. "Today, the RTS,S malaria vaccine — more than 30 years in the making — changes the course of public health history." — Agencies


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