WHO recommends malaria vaccine for broad-scale use in Africa

Posted 12th October 2021 by Dr. Janilza Silveira Silva

On October 6th, the World Health Organisation announced it is recommending broad-scale use of the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine as a complementary prevention tool among children in Africa and in other regions with moderate to high Plasmodium falciparum malaria transmission. Target Malaria joins the World Health Organisation, partners and stakeholders in celebrating this historic milestone in the fight against malaria.

Malaria is a preventable and treatable disease which continues to claim over 200 million lives every year. The disease is prevalent in Africa, with the African continent alone accounting for over 90% of all cases recorded globally. Most of these victims are either pregnant women or children under five.

Over the past years, Indoor Residual Spraying (IRS), the use of insecticide-treated bednets and anti-malarial drugs have been at the core of malaria prevention strategies. Unfortunately, the malaria mosquito and parasite continue to adapt, with 80% of countries worldwide reporting mosquito resistance to at least one insecticide and recent studies showing that Plasmodium falciparum has developed resistance to a key family of drugs used to protect against it. To address these challenges, and achieve malaria elimination, new tools are needed.

In this context, the development of a safe and effective malaria vaccine is welcome news. It is also a reminder of the importance of scientific research and continuous innovation in the quest to eliminate malaria. New tools, such as vaccines, could be gamechangers in the fight against the disease.

While the addition of a malaria vaccine to the malaria toolbox will help to accelerate progress, the history of the fight against the disease has taught us that no single tool used alone can be a silver bullet. As Dr. Diallo, CEO of the RBM Partnership to End Malaria, reminds us:

“While new technologies will help to accelerate progress, there is no silver bullet. Until we eradicate malaria, we will need constant innovation to stay one step ahead of evolution. These interventions must be deployed strategically in combination with existing malaria prevention and treatment measures.”

Malaria is a complex and dynamic disease that requires a diversity of approaches that when used together offer the best chance of eliminating the disease. If we are to stay one step ahead of the malaria parasite and mosquito, a complementary approach is our best bet. Using a multi-pronged strategy will also enable us to better address the specific and diverse needs of different communities and geographies at risk of malaria.

Dr Andrew Hammond, Imperial College London, discusses vaccines and the use of gene drive technology for malaria control in an interview with CNN’s Lynda Kinkade

As part of this complementary approach, gene drive technologies could work alongside tools such as next-generation vaccines, innovative medicines and repellents to integrate and enhance their impact and reduce the malaria burden. If we are to beat malaria, we will need to use the best combination of tools available. In this quest, investment in and support for continuous research and innovation remain paramount.