Dar es Salaam. It is now confirmed. Mass vaccinations with the world’s first malaria vaccine, RTS,S, whose trial involved over 15,000 children from Tanzania and six other African countries, are due to begin in 2018.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said last weekend that the vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline through a network of African research centres, will be rolled out in pilot projects in sub-Saharan Africa. Here in Tanzania, it involved scientists from the Ifakara Health Institute (IHI). RTS, S is the first malaria vaccine to have successfully completed pivotal Phase 3 testing.
The Phase 3 trial enrolled infants and children from Burkina Faso, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, and Tanzania
Countries that participated in the Phase 3 clinical trials will be prioritised for inclusion in the WHO pilot programme. Consultations are ongoing and the names of the three selected countries will be announced in the coming weeks, said the WHO.
WHO confirmed in a statement that the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria has approved $15 million (Sh31.5 billion) for the malaria vaccine pilots, assuring full funding for the first phase of the programme.
The World Health Agency added that earlier this year, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance and global health initiative, Unitaid, announced commitments of up to $27.5 million and $9.6 million, respectively, for the first four years of the vaccine programme.
“The pilot deployment of this first-generation vaccine marks a milestone in the fight against malaria,” said Dr Pedro Alonso, director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme. “These pilot projects will provide the evidence we need from real-life settings to make informed decisions on whether to deploy the vaccine on a wide scale,” he added.
RTS,S, acts against P. falciparum, the most deadly malaria parasite globally, and the most prevalent in Africa. Advanced clinical trials have shown RTS,S to provide partial protection against malaria in young children.
Ninty-three percent of the Tanzanian population in the Mainland and the entire population of Zanzibar live in areas where malaria is transmitted, according to government statistics.
Experts say unstable seasonal malaria transmission occurs in approximately 20 per cent of the country, while stable malaria with seasonal variation occurs in another 20 percent. The remaining malaria endemic areas in Tanzania (60 percent) are characterized as stable perennial transmission
According to the latest estimates from WHO, there were 214 million new cases of malaria worldwide in 2015 (range 149–303 million). The African Region accounted for most global cases of malaria (88 percent), followed by the South-East Asia Region (10 percent and the Eastern Mediterranean Region.