World Malaria Day: Can vaccination prevent malaria from spreading?

Malawi starts the first-ever pilot project to immunise children against malaria

Published: Thursday 25 April 2019

Malawi, a southeast African country, has started the first-ever pilot project to immunise children against the deadly Malaria parasite.

Malaria is a disease caused by the bite of female Anopheles mosquitoes. It is estimated that 435,000 people die of it every year. Even though malaria was documented as early as 2700 BC, it is unlike any infectious disease.

Malaria is transmitted through a parasite that passes through multiple life stages, each of which presents a unique challenge to vaccine developers. ‘RTS, S’, the new vaccine, will be given to children up to 2 years of age. Ghana and Kenya will also introduce this vaccine in the coming weeks and 360,000 children will get vaccinated in these three countries.

The vaccine was first developed in 1987 by British Pharmaceutical Company GlaxoSmithKline. The partners in the pilot project in Africa are PATH, a non-profit health organisation, and GSK. The overall cost of the research is around $1 billion. Under this project, 10 million vaccines are donated to fight against malaria.

While the world is excited to try its first malaria vaccine, its efficacy is as low as 30 per cent after four dosages. Also, the immunity will reduce after some months. But the World Health Organization thinks if this vaccine is used along with other preventive measures like mosquito net, insecticides, prompt diagnosis and treatment, it can reduce the number of people who get affected by malaria.

Experts claim that by 2019, the malaria will make a comeback. In 2016, 217 million people were infected by malaria, but in the next year, additional 2 million people were infected. In 2018, half a million people died because of malaria, 60 per cent of them were children. If this trend follows, then in 2019, the number will increase again.

The African continent has the most number of casualties. This is because of the poor health and hygiene conditions prevail in these countries and lack of awareness.

The WHO wanted to bring down malaria deaths by 40 per cent by 2020, but it is way short of achieving this target. The major challenge will be educating the parents about the vaccine and ensuring that the children will get all four dosages of the vaccine.

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