Home Opinion and Features Malaria vaccine a ’landmark’ in fight against world’s deadliest disease

Malaria vaccine a ’landmark’ in fight against world’s deadliest disease

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Dr Joe Phaahla has described the approval of the world’s first malaria vaccine, Mosquirix, by the WHO as a breakthrough that will accelerate plans to eliminate the disease in southern Africa and the rest of the world.

File picture: AP Photo/Felipe Dana

IN HIS capacity as the chairperson of the Southern African Development Community`s Malaria Elimination Eight (E8) initiative ministerial committee, Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla has described the approval of the world’s first malaria vaccine, called Mosquirix, by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a breakthrough that will accelerate plans to eliminate malaria.

According to Phaahla, the Mosquirix vaccine, scientifically known as RTS,S/AS01, is a significant addition to the current set of complementary malaria prevention tools available to higher-burden malaria endemic countries.

“We see this malaria vaccine as a landmark development in the history of the fight against the spread of this deadly infectious disease, which kills about half a million people every year including 260,000 children below the age of five years, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Phaahla.

He added that “we will do all we can to ensure that the vaccine can reach our shores, where it is required to protect children from severe disease and death”.

The Mosquirix vaccine may not be indicative for local use due to South Africa being in a low to very-low malaria transmission zone.

However, several other E8 countries with moderate- to higher-burden of malaria transmission, such Angola, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe, will benefit from the implementation of this vaccine.

The E8 initiative is a coalition of eight countries working across national borders to eliminate malaria in southern Africa by 2030.

After decades of research and development in searching for a malaria vaccine, the WHO has made a historic recommendation to endorse and scale up manufacturing and deployment of the first-ever promising malaria vaccine for children under the age of five years in regions with moderate to high plasmodium falciparum malaria transmission.

The development of the first-generation vaccine against a human parasite is a huge achievement, because parasites are more complex than viruses or bacteria and scientists have been working towards this goal for over 30 years.

WHO regional director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti said the vaccine offers a glimmer of hope.

“We have long hoped for an effective malaria vaccine and now for the first time ever we have such a vaccine recommended for widespread use,” said Moeti.

“Today’s recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease and we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults.”

Senior lecturer from the department of global health at Stellenbosch University, Dr Jo Barnes called malaria a heavy-burden disease.

Africa is the continent worst affected by malaria (94% of cases occur in the continent) and the worst affected age group is children.

“In Africa more than 260 000 children died from the disease in 2019. This is a heavy burden of disease and loss of life,” Barnes said.

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