Shemaine Bushnell Kyriakides
The World Health Organization today approved the first malaria vaccine created by African scientists in Africa.
"It's a historic moment. The long-awaited vaccine for children is a breakthrough in science, medicine and the fight against malaria," said the agency's director general, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The vaccine, called Mosquirix, acts against Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest malaria parasite globally and the most prevalent in Africa. It significantly reduces malaria and life-threatening severe malaria in young African children.
386,000 Africans died from malaria in 2019 compared to 212,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the past 18 months
"Using this vaccine in conjunction with existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of lives each year," he added.
The quest for a malaria vaccine has been ongoing for a hundred years. According to Dr. Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO's global malaria program, "It's a huge jump from a science perpective to have a first-generation vaccine against a human parasite".
Malaria kills hundreds of thousands of African kids every year and is far more deadly than COVID-19 in Africa. According to a Reuters report, 386,000 Africans died from malaria in 2019 compared to 212,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the past 18 months. The disease has been known since antiquity, and manifests itself with fever, headache, muscle aches, chills and sweating.
The vaccine was developed by GlaxoSmithKline and although it has only a moderate efficacy rate of 50%, it could still prevent 5.4 million cases and 23,000 deaths in children younger than 5 each year.
Another vaccine is being developed by the University of Oxford. Named 'atrix-M', the vaccine has shown to be 77% effective in second phase trials conducted in the past year. This vaccine could be licensed in less than two years.
In July, German company BioNTech announced that it was looking into using messenger RNA technology (already used in the Covid-19 vaccine) to develop a vaccine for malaria and that they would begin testing next year.