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Malaria vaccine pilot program coming to Africa in 2018

2017.04.26 07:24

The first-ever malaria vaccine pilot program will take place in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, the World Health Organization announced Monday.

The announcement for the program, which is expected to begin in 2018, comes ahead of World Malaria Day on Tuesday.

The vaccine, called “RTS,S”, is injectable and meant to protect children from a deadly strain of malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparium, WHO said in a statement.

Malaria is caused by a parasite and is spread to humans through bites from infected female Anopheles mosquitoes.

“The prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, in a statement. “Information gathered in the pilot program will help us make decision on the wider use of this vaccine.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that about 1,500 cases of malaria are diagnosed in the U.S. annually, usually from travelers or immigrants returning from sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

WHO counts 429,000 Africans that died from Malaria in 2015.

“Any death from malaria — a preventable and treatable disease — is simply unacceptable,” said Dr. Pedro Alonso, director of WHO’s Global Malaria Program. “Today we are urging countries and partners to accelerate the pace of action, especially in low-income countries with a high malaria burden.”

While there are a number of malaria prophylaxis for travelers, prevention in malaria affected areas include distribution of insecticide-treated nets, to which the WHO attributes the prevention of an estimated 69 percent of malaria cases in Africa.

Other measures include spraying indoor walls with insecticides and preventive medicines for pregnant women and infants.

The ramped-up malaria intervention has saved 3.3 million lives globally, according to the CDC. However, sub-Saharan Africa has suffered the brunt of the infections, with children the most vulnerable population.

The pilot vaccine program will be administered to children between 17 months and five years old.

The three countries were chosen for the pilot program because of their “well-functioning malaria and immunization programs.”

The regiment includes four doses of the vaccine and the pilot program will evaluate the feasibility of its administration.

WHO said that despite progress in malaria prevention, the implementation across African nations is slow.

“WHO-recommended tools have made a measurable difference in the global malaria fight,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, director-general of WHO. “But we need a much bigger push for prevention — especially in Africa, which bears the greatest burden of malaria.”

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