First malaria vaccine to be rolled out to children in Africa after historic breakthrough

6 October 2021, 16:56 | Updated: 6 October 2021, 17:52

The World Health Organisation has approved the use of a malaria vaccine.
The World Health Organisation has approved the use of a malaria vaccine. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

The World Health Organisation has recommended the broad use of a malaria vaccine for children, for the first time.

In 2019, there were 409-thousand deaths caused by the mosquito-transmitted illness - 94 percent of which were in sub-Saharan Africa.

Clinical trials on young children show the vaccine prevents three out of 10 cases of severe disease - potentially saving hundreds of thousands of lives.

Pedro Alonso, the WHO's malaria lead, says this is a landmark medical moment.

"A malaria vaccine will help us save hundreds of thousands of lives, prevent millions of cases and help us regain momentum in the fight against malaria," he said.

"It is of massive global significance."

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Director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom says the vaccine will change the course of public health history.

“This is a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control,” said the WHO Director-General.

“Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”

WHO is recommending widespread use of the malaria vaccine among children in sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high malaria transmission.

The recommendation is based on results from an ongoing pilot programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has reached more than 800,000 children since 2019.

It remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa, killing more than 260,000 African children under the age of five every year.

In recent years, WHO and its partners have been reporting a stagnation in progress against the deadly disease.

"For centuries, malaria has stalked sub-Saharan Africa, causing immense personal suffering,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.

“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. 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.”