WHO approves world's first malaria vaccine RTS,S/AS01: All you need to know!

The RTS,S malaria vaccine has been approved to reduce child illness & deaths in areas with moderate to high P. falciparum malaria transmission. According to WHO, it could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.

Created On: Oct 7, 2021 12:20 IST
WHO approves world's first malaria vaccine RTS,S/AS01
WHO approves world's first malaria vaccine RTS,S/AS01

The World Health Organization on October 6, 2021 recommended the widespread use of the world's first malaria vaccine- RTS, S/AS01 (RTS,S) among children, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate and high malaria transmission.

The RTS,S vaccine has been approved as it significantly reduces malaria and life-threatening severe cases. Over 800,000 children have received the vaccine so far and have been benefiting from the additional protection against the disease. 

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus stated, "I started my career as a #malaria researcher, and I longed for the day that we would have an effective vaccine against this ancient and terrible disease. Today is that day: @WHO is recommending the broad use of the world’s first malaria vaccine."

While recommending the vaccine, WHO DG said "this vaccine is a gift to the world" and added  saying, "We still have a very long road to travel, but this is a long stride down that road."

Significance

The RTS,S malaria vaccine has been approved to reduce child illness & deaths in areas with moderate to high P. falciparum malaria transmission. According to WHO, it could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.

Malaria vaccine Pilot Study 

WHO's recommendation of the world's first malaria vaccine is based on results from an ongoing pilot programme in three African countries- Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. The RTS,S malaria vaccine was introduced as a pilot programme two years ago in 2019. 

Over 2.3 million doses of the vaccine have been administered across the three nations since then, reaching more than 800,000 children.

Key findings of the study:

•The vaccine introduction was feasible and it helps improve health and save lives. Good equitable coverage of RTS,S was seen through routine immunization systems. 

•The RTS,S vaccine increases equity in access to malaria prevention. Over two-thirds of children in the 3 countries who are not sleeping under a bednet are benefitting from the RTS,S vaccine.

•The vaccine also has a favorable safety profile so far in the three nations. 

•There has been no negative impact on uptake of bednets or other childhood vaccinations.

•There has been no decrease in the use of insecticide-treated nets or uptake of other childhood vaccinations or health-seeking behavior for febrile illness.

•There has been a significant reduction (30%) in deadly severe malaria cases, even in areas where insecticide-treated nets are widely used and there is good access to diagnosis and treatment.

•The vaccine is cost-effective in areas of moderate to high malaria transmission.

What is the dosage schedule?

As per WHO's recommendation, the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine should be provided in a schedule of 4 doses in children from 5 months of age. 

Malaria Symptoms

The main symptoms of malaria include fever, muscle pain, headaches and cycles of chills, fever and sweating.

Background 

Malaria is a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa with over 260 000 African children under 5 years of age dying annually from malaria. In recent years, WHO had been reporting a stagnation in progress against the deadly disease.

Hence, the recommendation of the RTS, S/AS01 malaria vaccine offers a glimmer of hope for the sub-Saharan African continent which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease. Every two minutes, a child dies of malaria in the continent, as per WHO. 

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