By Alfred Nyakinda

The world’s first malaria vaccine has been launched in Malawi as part of a pilot programme which will include Ghana and Kenya, children of up to two years are the main beneficiaries.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa Credits WHO
Photo credits: WHO

“Malaria is a constant threat in the African communities where this vaccine will be given. The poorest children suffer the most and are at highest risk of death,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization (WHO) Regional Director for Africa. “We know the power of vaccines to prevent killer diseases and reach children, including those who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes.”

The malaria vaccine referred to as, RTS,S or Mosquirix- has been in development over the last 30 years and is the only vaccine that has demonstrated that it can significantly reduce malaria in children. In clinical trials, the vaccine prevented approximately four in ten malaria cases, including three in ten cases of life-threatening severe malaria.

The pilot programme aims to reach about 360,000 children per year across the three countries which were selected from among 10 African countries. Criteria for selection included well-functioning malaria and immunization programmes, and areas with moderate to high malaria transmission. The vaccine will be given in four doses: three doses between five and nine months of age and the fourth dose provided around the second birthday.

“We have seen tremendous gains from bed nets and other measures to control malaria in the last 15 years, but progress has stalled and even reversed in some areas. We need new solutions to get the malaria response back on track, and this vaccine gives us a promising tool to get there,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “The malaria vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of children’s lives.”

The pilot seeks to allow the partnering organizations to learn how to best deliver the four doses in normal settings, assess the vaccine’s full potential role in reducing child deaths and establish its safety profile in the context of routine use. It will also look at vaccine uptake, including whether parents bring their children on time for the four required doses.

The WHO-led programme is a collaboration between ministries of health in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi and a range of in-country and international partners, including PATH, a non-profit organization, and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), the vaccine developer and manufacturer, which is donating up to 10 million vaccine doses for this pilot.

“Delivering the world’s first malaria vaccine will help reduce the burden of one of the most pressing health challenges globally,” said Dr Thomas Breuer, Chief Medical Officer of GSK Vaccines. “We look forward to seeing the results of the pilot, and in parallel, are working with WHO and PATH to secure the vaccine’s sustained global health impact in the future.”

Financing has been mobilized through an unprecedented collaboration among three key global health funding bodies: Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Unitaid.

According to the WHO, malaria remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of one child every two minutes. Most of these deaths are in Africa, where more than 250 000 children die from the disease every year, with children under 5 being at greatest risk. Worldwide, malaria kills 435 000 people a year.

The vaccine is a complementary malaria control tool to be used alongside other recommended measures for prevention such as the routine use of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying with insecticides, and timely malaria testing and treatment.

The launch of the vaccine coincides with the World Immunization Week, which is celebrated in the last week of April, during which World Malaria Day is observed on the 25th. This year the theme for the weeklong campaign- Protected Together: Vaccines Work!-aims to raise awareness about the importance of full immunization throughout life and urge greater action.

The WHO states that immunization saves millions of lives every year and is widely recognized as one of the world’s most successful and cost-effective health interventions. Contact: