Very few instances in modern medical science have been defined as an epoch – the discovery of penicillin, use of X-ray for medical diagnosis, discovery of DNA’s double helix structure or perhaps even the creation of mRNA Covid vaccine.
However, a recent statement by World Health Organisation has put the spotlight on a very important development – approval of malaria vaccine for children. While terming it as a ‘historic moment & a breakthrough for science’, the global health body added this vaccine can ‘save tens of thousands of young lives each year’
World Health Organization has approved the use of RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) or Mosquirix malaria vaccine in children from sub-Saharan Africa and in places with moderate to high transmission of Plasmodium falciparum malaria. This development comes after a pilot programme was undertaken in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, reaching at least 8 lakh children in the last 2 years.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
“For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering. We have long hoped for an effective malaria vaccine and now for the first time ever, we have such a vaccine recommended for widespread use.”
In sub-Saharan Africa, Malaria is a primary cause of childhood illness and in fact, 2.6 lakh children under the age of 5 years die due to it every year.
WHO says 4 doses of RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine must be administered in children from 5 months of age. Key findings of the pilot program shows the vaccine significantly reduced (30%) onset of deadly severe malaria and was cost effective in areas of moderate to high malaria transmission.
Next steps for the WHO-recommended malaria vaccine will include funding decisions from the global health community for broader rollout, and country decision-making on whether to adopt the vaccine as part of national malaria control strategies.
The pilot programme will continue in the 3 pilot countries to understand the added value of the 4th vaccine dose, and to measure longer-term impact on child deaths.
The RTS,S malaria vaccine is the result of 30 years of research and development by GSK in partnership with PATH & a network of African research centres. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation provided catalytic funding for late-stage development of RTS,S between 2001 and 2015.
Why it’s important for India
The World Malaria Report 2020 released by WHO, revealed that India made considerable progress in reducing its malaria burden. India is the only high endemic country which has reported a decline of 17.6% in 2019 as compared to 2018. The Annual Parasitic Incidence reduced by 27.6% in 2018 compared to 2017 and by 18.4% in 2019 as compared to 2018.PIB
India has also contributed to the largest drop in cases region-wide, from approximately 20 million to about 6 million. The percentage drop in the malaria cases was 71.8% and deaths was 73.9% between 2000 to 2019.
India achieved a reduction of 83.34% in malaria morbidity and 92% in malaria mortality between the year 2000 and 2019, thereby achieving Goal 6 of the Millennium Development Goals (50-75% decrease in case incidence between 2000 and 2019)
Despite having made great strides in our fight against Malaria, it’s imperative to note that India accounts for 86% deaths related to Malaria in WHO South East Asia region. The vaccine for children paves way for many other avenues
Malaria is usually seen in areas with poor hygiene and generally impacts people in low income group. Anti-malarial Vaccine for children in India will not only bring down the cases but will reduce the impact of the disease in turn benefitting patients and their families.