WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a press conference following a ceremony to mark the opening of the WHO academy in Lyon, France, Sept. 27, 2021.
Denis Balibouse | Reuters
Politicians and health professionals have welcomed WHO approval of the first malaria vaccine, which could be launched in sub-Saharan Africa by the end of 2022.
WHO has approved the wider use of GSK’s RTS, S malaria vaccine following pilot programs in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that have followed 800,000 children since 2019.
Thomas Breuer, GSK’s chief global health officer, said the vaccine, which began development in 1987, “could reinvigorate the fight against malaria in the region at a time when advances in malaria control have stalled.”
Meanwhile, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called the approval a “historic moment” and said it “changed the course of public health history”.
The British Health Secretary Sajid Javid called the approval an “excellent result for the continent’s public health and for British science”.
The vaccine, while the first ever approved, is still only 30% effective, requires four doses, and fades in months.
However, scientists hope the approval marks a turning point in efforts to combat malaria in sub-Saharan Africa. The region is responsible for the majority of the 400,000 malaria deaths worldwide each year.
Colin Sutherland, a professor of parasitology at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, told CNBC Thursday that children from low-income families in high-transmission areas would typically have multiple attacks of malaria every rainy season or even year-round.
“The public health impact is therefore not only serious illness and, in a relatively small proportion, death, but also chronic or repeated infections that lead to anemia, fatigue, poor school attendance, limited learning opportunities and also impaired cognition,” said Sutherland.
“In this context, a vaccine that provides three to six months of protection at 30% can have some very welcome public health benefits.”
A health worker vaccinates a child against malaria in Ndhiwa, Homabay County, western Kenya on September 13, 2019 during the introduction of the malaria vaccine in Kenya.
Brian Ongoro | AFP | Getty Images
Sutherland suggested that the breakthrough could help accelerate progress in the fight against malaria, provided that resources for management, prevention and control are continued in addition to vaccine development.
New data showed that RTS, S when combined with seasonal antimalarial drugs reduced clinical episodes, hospital stays, and deaths by approximately 70%.
Sutherland also said the long-term prospects for future malaria vaccines using the same RNA-based technology used in the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Covid-19 vaccines are “excellent” and a “very exciting path” in the field Vaccine research opened.
“Pharma needs strong partnerships and incentives to work on tropical disease drug and vaccine development innovative funding mechanisms that draw academia, pharmacy, international charities and significant amounts of direct government funding (from UK, EU, US and other countries) are involved, “he emphasized.
“Therefore, it is imperative that government funding be maintained, especially in global healthcare where profits are small.”