First malaria vaccine to be administered in Ghana, Malawi and Kenya
The world Health Organization (WHO) has announced that a pilot program testing the first ever
malaria vaccine will begin in African countries in 2018. Children and babies in high-risk areas
such as Ghana, Kenya and Malawi will first receive the RTSS vaccine, also known as Mosquirix.
“Information gathered in the pilot will help us make decisions on the wider use of the vaccine,
” Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO’s African regional director, said. “Combined with existing malaria
interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa.”
RTS,S is an injectable vaccine administered in four doses. It aims to trigger the body’s own
immune system to defend against malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum – the most
deadly species of the malaria parasite, which is the most prevalent in Africa.
Large clinical trials in seven African countries between 2009 and 2014 showed that the vaccine
helped protect children and infants from clinical malaria for at least three years after first
According to the WHO’s World Malaria Report, published at the end of last year, the number of
cases of malaria worldwide decreased by 21 percent between 2010 and 2015. However, Pedro
Alonso, the director of the WHO’s Global Malaria Program, explains that there is a long way to
go in tackling the disease: “It still takes the lives of over 400,000 people every year – mostly
In fact, 90 percent of malaria cases and 92 percent of malaria deaths occur in Africa. The long
lifespan of mosquitoes in Africa, as well as their tendency to bite humans, is thought to be one
of the main reasons for the high prevalence of malaria in Africa.
By the year 2020, the WHO wants to see malaria incidence and mortality reduced by 40 percent
and the disease eliminated completely in at least 10 countries. Seven countries, including Morocco,
the United Arab Emirates and the Maldives, have been certified by the WHO Director-General as
having eliminated malaria in recent years.
Mosquito insecticides and nets
Preventative measures being promoted in sub-Saharan Africa include using insecticide-treated nets,
spraying indoor walls with insecticides, and administering preventive medicines to the most vulnerable
groups – pregnant women and young children or babies.
In 2015 it was estimated that half of people designated as “at-risk” of contracting the disease were
sleeping under a treated net, compared with just 30 percent in 2010. But, as Alonso explains,
preventative measures are not reaching everyone.
“It’s about having the health systems that can get those commodities to all those that need them,”
he says. “It’s about the financial resources to ensure that happens, and it’s about the political
“We are very encouraged by the political commitment and leadership we see in the affected countries
themselves. But the fight against malaria is going to be a long and hard one.”