The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced that Ghana, Kenya and Malawi have been chosen to test the world’s first malaria vaccine.
The three African nations will begin piloting the injectable vaccine next year with young children, who have been at highest risk of death, Associated Press reports.
The vaccine, which has partial effectiveness, has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives if used with existing measures, the WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said in a statement.
The challenge is whether impoverished countries can deliver the required four doses of the vaccine for each child.
Malaria remains one of the world’s most stubborn health challenges, infecting more than 200 million people every year and killing about half a million, most of them children in Africa. Bed netting and insecticides are the chief protection.
It is understood that the vaccine will be tested on children between five to 17 months old to see whether its protective effects shown so far in clinical trials can hold up under real-life conditions.
It was also gathered that the vaccine has taken decades of work and hundreds of millions of dollars to develop.
Kenya, Ghana and Malawi were chosen for the vaccine pilot because all have strong prevention and vaccination programmes but continue to have high numbers of malaria cases, WHO said.
The countries will deliver the vaccine through their existing vaccination programmes.
WHO is hoping to wipe out malaria by 2040 despite increasing resistance problems to both drugs and insecticides used to kill mosquitoes.
“The slow progress in this field is astonishing, given that malaria has been around for millennia and has been a major force for human evolutionary selection, shaping the genetic profiles of African populations,” Kathryn Maitland, professor of tropical paediatric infectious diseases at Imperial College London, wrote in The New England Journal of Medicine in December.
“Contrast this pace of change with our progress in the treatment of HIV, a disease a little more than three decades old.”
The malaria vaccine has been developed by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline, and the $49 million for the first phase of the pilot is being funded by the global vaccine alliance GAVI, UNITAID and Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.