By Gift Briton

The first malaria vaccine ( RTS,S) to be approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) has reduced deaths among young children by 13 percent.

This is based on the findings of a new study presented by WHO during the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

The study was conducted in some countries across Africa including Kenya, Ghana and Malawi in which the vaccine was administered to children young enough to receive three doses.

Furthermore, the research also shows that RTS,S vaccine slashed severe malaria cases by 22 percent among young children.

To calculate mortality in the three countries, where death registry statistics are unreliable, the researchers employed tens of thousands of community reporters to conduct household surveys of childhood deaths where the vaccine was administered and comparator areas where it was not available.

Researchers then compared the death rates of babies whose age made them eligible to receive three doses of the vaccine with those of young children who were not age-eligible for three doses, in both RTS,S areas and unvaccinated areas.

The comparison, covering 46 months, revealed the 13% decline in mortality—excluding accidental deaths—attributed to RTS,S.

The researchers used the same method to detect the 22% decline in severe malaria, counting admissions for severe cases of the disease at designated “sentinel” hospitals in RTS,S, and comparator areas.

Matthew Laurens, a malaria vaccine researcher at the University of Maryland School of Medicine adds that on top of preventing malaria, the vaccine is “training” the immune system in a general way that extends a protective benefit against other infections.

The RTS,S vaccine was approved for widespread use by WHO in 2021. Experts say that the vaccine could save up to tens of thousands of lives if it is implemented broadly.

In 2021, malaria led to the death of approximately 468,000 children below the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa, with Africa accounting for over 90 percent of both malaria deaths and cases globally. However, seventeen countries in the region have already won approval to receive doses that will start to roll out next year.