Some 18 million doses of the first malaria vaccine RTS,S will be delivered to 12 African countries until 2025, the World Health Organization, Unicef and the Vaccine Alliance (Gavi) announced on Wednesday.
“Malaria remains one of the deadliest diseases in Africa, where it kills nearly half a million children under the age of 5 every year,” WHO head Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told a press conference.
By 2021, 96% of malaria deaths worldwide will have occurred in Africa.
The RTS,S vaccine – developed by British pharmaceutical group GSK – has already been administered to over 1.7 million children in three African countries – Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, as part of a pilot program.
“It has proved safe and effective, leading to a substantial reduction in severe forms of malaria and a drop in child deaths”, said Dr Tedros.
Nearly 30 African countries have indicated their willingness to receive doses.
In addition to the three test countries, which will continue to receive doses, nine other countries will benefit from doses, said WHO, Unicef and Gavi in a statement.
These are Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Niger, Sierra Leone and Uganda.
The first vaccines are scheduled to arrive in the last quarter of 2023, for deployment in early 2024.
Dr. Tedros pointed out that a second malaria vaccine, R21/Matrix-M developed by Oxford University and produced by the Serum Institute in India (SII), “is under review for prequalification” by the WHO, a procedure to ensure that health products intended to supply low-income countries are safe and effective.
“It’s very important to remember that almost every minute a child dies from malaria, and the introduction of the malaria vaccine is an important step forward” in the fight against the disease, WHO Immunization and Vaccines Director Kate O’Brien told a press conference.
This first vaccine “is a step in the right direction, and foreshadows the millions of doses that will be distributed in the future”, she added.
WHO, Unicef and Gavi estimate that annual global demand for malaria vaccines will be between 40 and 60 million doses by 2026, rising to between 80 and 100 million doses each year by 2030.
Malaria – a disease transmitted to humans by the bites of certain types of mosquito – caused the death of 619,000 people worldwide in 2021, according to the latest WHO figures.