By; MATTHEW UKACHUNWA, Lagos
World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed the efficacy of the first malaria vaccine, saying that it has protected more than one million children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi who have received one or more doses of the world’s first malaria vaccine.
WHO gave thanks to a pilot programme coordinated by it. “The malaria vaccine pilots, first launched by the Government of Malawi in April 2019, have shown that the RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) vaccine is safe and feasible to deliver, and that it substantially reduces deadly severe malaria,” the international authority on public health narrated.
WHO said that those findings paved the way for the historic October 2021 WHO recommendation for the expanded use of RTS,S among children living in settings with moderate to high malaria transmission.
“If widely deployed, WHO estimates that the vaccine could save the lives of an additional 40 000 to 80 000 African children each year,” the international authority on public health declared.
It disclosed that more than US$ 155 million has been secured from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance to support the introduction, procurement and delivery of the malaria vaccine for Gavi-eligible countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
WHO guidance is available to countries as they consider whether and how to adopt RTS,S as an additional tool to reduce child illness and deaths from malaria, the United Nations (UN) agency said in news release dated 21st April 2022.
“As a malaria researcher in my early career, I dreamed of the day we would have an effective vaccine against this devastating disease,” Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said. “This vaccine is not just a scientific breakthrough, it’s life-changing for families across Africa. It demonstrates the power of science and innovation for health. Even so, there is an urgent need to develop more and better tools to save lives and drive progress towards a malaria-free world.”
Commenting on the prospects for new interventions, WHO stated thatRTS,S is a first-generation vaccine that could be complemented in the future by other vaccines with similar or higher efficacy.
WHO welcomed progress in the development of R21/Matrix-M and other malaria vaccine candidates in early clinical development.
“The successful completion of clinical trials for these vaccines will be important to assess their safety and efficacy profiles.
“WHO also welcomes the news from BioNTech, manufacturer of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, that it aims to develop a malaria vaccine using mRNA technology,” the UN organ stressed.
According to it, in the field of vector control, a number of new tools and technologies have been submitted to WHO for evaluation.
It declared, “Should they demonstrate efficacy in controlling the disease, WHO will formulate new recommendations or amend existing ones to support their deployment. These include, for example, new types of insecticide-treated nets, spatial mosquito repellents, gene-drive approaches and sugar baits designed to attract and kill Anopheles mosquitoes.”
It pointed out that there are also new medicines in the pipeline, and, therefore, WHO welcomed the recent approval by the Australian Therapeutic Goods Administration of dispersible tablets of single-dose tafenoquine for the prevention of P. vivax malaria among children.
Tafenoquine, WHO clarified, has also been approved for use in adults by the US Federal Drug Administration and by drug regulatory bodies in other countries, including Brazil, Peru and Thailand.
As a single dose, tafenoquine is expected to support patient adherence to treatment. The current standard of care requires a 7- or 14-day course of medication, WHO explained.
“A number other antimalarial medicines with new modes of action are being developed for the treatment of uncomplicated and severe malaria. Ganaplacide-Lumefantrine, currently in a Phase II clinical trial, is the first non-artemisinin combination therapy and could be an asset in fight against emerging drug-resistant malaria in Africa,” international authority on public health revealed.
In addition to drug resistance, WHO has reported other pressing threats in the fight against malaria, such as mosquito resistance to insecticides, an invasive malaria vector that thrives in urban and rural areas, and the emergence and spread of mutated P. falciparum parasites that are undermining the effectiveness of rapid diagnostic tests.
It emphasized that innovation in tools and strategies will be critical to contain these threats, together with a more strategic use of the tools that are available today.
According to the 2021 World malaria report, global progress in reducing malaria cases and deaths has slowed or stalled in recent years, particularly in countries hardest hit by the disease, WHO said while calling for more investment in the fight against malaria.
“The report notes the need for continued innovation in the research and development of new tools if the world is to achieve the 2030 targets of the WHO malaria strategy.
“Funding for malaria-related research and development reached just over US$ 619 million in 2020. An average annual R&D investment of US$ 851 million will be needed in the period 2021–2030,” WHO elaborated.
On making better use of the tools we have now, WHO said that reaching global malaria targets will also require innovations in the way that currently available tools are deployed.
Through the “High burden to high impact” approach, launched by WHO and the RBM Partnership to End Malaria in 2018, countries hardest hit by malaria have been collecting and analysing malaria data to better understand the geographical spread of the disease, the UN body related.
“Instead of applying the same approach to malaria control everywhere, they are considering the potential impact of tailored packages of interventions informed by local data and the local disease setting. These analyses will enable countries to use available funds in a more effective, efficient and equitable way,” WHO maintained.