A disease that has plagued large territories including Africa and South Asia for decades and has caused over hundreds of thousands of deaths might finally have met its match: the world’s first ever pilot malaria vaccine. The pilot was launched in Malawi on Apr. 23 acting as a beacon of hope, health and faith. Malawi is the first out of three other countries in Africa to have access to the medicine where the vaccine, RTS,S, will be made available to children up to two years in age. Ghana and Kenya will shortly follow Malawi’s lead in the coming weeks when the vaccine will soon be available in these countries as well.
The vaccine is 30 years in the making and has shown partial protection against Plasmodium falciparum, especially in young children. While the vaccine has proven to increase the survival rate immensely, it has also helped decline the level of severe anemia by 60%. Anemia is one of the most common reasons kids’ lives are claimed from malaria, so cutting the levels by more than half is nothing short of a medical miracle.
To emphasize the importance of this medical breakthrough, let us examine what malaria truly is and the impact it has on large populations of people. Malaria is known as one of the world’s leading killer and a child’s life is taken every two minutes. Most of the deaths reside in Africa with more than 250,000 lives of children claimed annually. Globally, malaria kills 435,000 individuals a year, a large majority of them children. In order to cut down these numbers, the pilot program is aiming to annually vaccinate 360,000 children under the age of two across Malawi, Kenya and Ghana.
In several clinical trials, the vaccine was proven to prevent around four in ten malaria cases as well as three in ten severe malaria cases. The World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke on the recent discovery of the vaccine, “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. The malaria vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of children’s lives.”
As far as administering the vaccine goes, the plan is to first focus on areas with higher concentration and history of malaria cases along with areas that have moderate-to-high malaria transmission. Areas known for higher concentrations of malaria are areas where the vaccine can have the highest success rate.
As expected, Twitter is blowing up, informing the world as quickly as possible that we might have found the holy grail of vaccines.
With 30 years under the medical development of the malaria vaccine, it seems that this medicine is a promising start to a healthier future for hundreds and thousands of children. While this is just a pilot of the vaccination, there is no telling what medical breakthrough will result in the years to come and how many lives this vaccine will save.