The World Health Organization Regional Office for Africa (WHO/AFRO) announced on 24 April 2017 that Ghana, Kenya and Malawi will take part in a WHO-coordinated pilot implementation programme.
The programme will make the world’s first malaria vaccine available in selected areas, beginning in 2018.
The injectable vaccine, RTS,S, was developed to protect young children from the most deadly form of malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum.
The vaccine will be assessed in the pilot programme as a complementary malaria control tool that could potentially be added to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention.
In October 2015, two independent WHO advisory groups recommended pilot implementation of RTS,S in three to five settings in sub-Saharan Africa. The recommendation came from the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization and the Malaria Policy Advisory Committee (MPAC). The WHO formally adopted the recommendation in January 2016.
• The WHO pilot programme will assess whether the vaccine’s protective effect in children aged 5 – 17 months old during Phase III testing can be replicated in real-life.
• It will also assess the feasibility of delivering the required four doses of RTS,S, the vaccine’s potential role in reducing childhood deaths, and its safety in the context of routine use.
• It will be administered via intramuscular injection and delivered through the routine national immunization programmes.
• RTS,S was developed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
• It is the first malaria vaccine to have successfully completed a Phase III clinical trial.
• The trial was conducted between 2009 and 2014 through a partnership involving GSK, the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation), and a network of African research sites in seven African countries.
• It is also the first malaria vaccine to have obtained a positive scientific opinion from a stringent medicines regulatory authority, the European Medicines Agency (EMA). The EMA had approved RTS,S in July 2015.
Why African nations were chosen for the pilot programme?
Africa bears the greatest burden of malaria worldwide. Between 2000 and 2015, a 62 percent reduction in malaria deaths was seen yet approximately 429000 people died of the disease in 2015. Most of the deaths were recorded in Africa.
Ghana, Kenya and Malawi were selected to participate in the pilot based on the following criteria: high coverage of long-lasting insecticidal-treated nets (LLINs); well-functioning malaria and immunisation programmes, a high malaria burden even after scale-up of LLINs, and participation in the Phase III RTS,S malaria vaccine trial.