On the afternoon of Friday, July 24, as Kenyans’ excitement about the arrival of US President Barack Obama that night reached fever pitch, miles away in London, UK, a high-level scientific meeting that could greatly aid the country’s war against malaria was taking place.
It led to the approval of the first malaria vaccine.
Known as RTS,S, the vaccine was developed by GlaxoSmithKline in partnership with the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI). It is the first licensed human vaccine against malaria, and so far the most advanced.
It is also the first vaccine specifically targeting parasites, unlike other vaccines that target viruses or bacteria.
According to the researchers behind the vaccine, whose trade name is mosquirix, it will be given to children between the ages of six weeks and 17 months.
USED MAINLY IN AFRICA
It will be used mainly in Africa, which has been struggling for years to eradicate the disease.
RTS,S was approved after 30 years of research that saw trials conducted in seven African countries.
The vaccine is expected to have considerable impact, given that malaria kills more than half a million people every year, most of them in developing countries.
“Although existing interventions have helped to reduce malaria deaths significantly over the past decade, a well-tolerated and effective vaccine with an acceptable safety profile could add an important complementary tool for malaria control efforts,” reads a GSK fact sheet on the vaccine.
According to the World Health Organisation, an expansion of malaria interventions helped to reduce the incidence of the disease by 30 per cent globally, and by 34 per cent in Africa between 2000 and 2013.
The 2013 Kenya Household Health Expenditure and Utilisation Survey cites malaria, reproductive health diseases and HIV/Aids as the highest consumers of household budgets.
Consequently, the use of the new vaccine is likely to reduce expenditure on malaria.
The development of RTS,S has been a long and painstaking journey, so its approval has been well received by those behind it.