RTS-S vaccine

Three countries in Africa are set to embark on a landmark anti-malaria vaccination campaign which has the potential to save thousands of children’s lives.

This Tuesday, Malawi became the first African country to launch the pilot Malaria Vaccination Programme which is set to expand to Ghana and Kenya next week.

Each of the three countries is expected to immunise 120 000 children by 2020, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

The vaccine known as RTS-S, will be administered to children aged between five months to 2 years.

WHO Zimbabwe’s director, Dr Alex Gasasira said the introduction of the vaccine on immunisation schedules of countries in sub-Saharan Africa will assist in putting the malaria response back on track.

“The vaccine took 30 years to develop and the trials will take two years. If it succeeds it will then be introduced on routine immunisation programmes of countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Zimbabwe included,” he said.

The protein-based RTS-S vaccine went through five years of clinical trials on 15 000 people in seven countries.

In clinical trials, the vaccine was found to prevent approximately 4 in 10 malaria cases, including 3 in 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria.

The vaccine needs to be given four times, once a month for three months and then a fourth dose 18 months later.

In Zimbabwe, malaria endemic areas include Mutare, Gokwe, Mutoko, Dande, Chikombedzi, Mudzi, Hwange and Mt Darwin.

Zimbabwe collaborates with neighbouring countries in strengthening cross border malaria control activities since mosquitoes that spread malaria know no boundaries.

According to the WHO, malaria kills more than 435 000 people around the world each year with the majority of cases being children under five years.