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Malawi launches first malaria vaccination programme for children

BMJ 2019; 365 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l1901 (Published 25 April 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;365:l1901
  1. Elisabeth Mahase
  1. The BMJ

The Malawi government has launched a pilot programme for the world’s first malaria vaccine.1

The programme, which will also include Ghana and Kenya in the next few weeks, aims to vaccinate 360 000 children under two years old annually across the three countries. It will focus on areas with moderate to high malaria transmission.

Malaria kills 435 000 people a year globally, over 250 000 of whom are children in Africa. It is one of the world’s leading killers, with children under five being at greatest risk of life threatening complications.

The vaccine, known as RTS,S, is the only one to date which has been shown to have a protective effect against malaria among young children in a phase 3 trial.2

The trial, carried out between 2009 and 2014, saw significant reductions in malaria and malaria related complications in children who received four doses of the vaccine, compared with those who had not.

The final results showed the vaccine prevented four in 10 cases of clinical malaria, three in 10 cases of severe malaria, and six in 10 cases of severe malaria anaemia.

Matshidiso Moeti, World Health Organization regional director for Africa, said: “We know the power of vaccines to prevent killer diseases and reach children, including those who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses, and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes.

“This is a day to celebrate, as we begin to learn more about what this tool can do to change the trajectory of malaria through childhood vaccination.”

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “We have seen the gains from bed nets and other measures to control malaria in the past 15 years, but progress has stalled and even reversed in some areas.

“We need new solutions and this vaccine is a promising tool. It has the potential to save tens of thousands of children’s lives.”

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