The menace that is malaria, has haunted the world for centuries now. The killer disease has claimed uncountable lives over time. The fight against malaria has had several ups and downs over the decades. Being a protozoal disease of the tropics, and spread by mosquitoes, eradicating the disease has for a long time been only a dream. Resistance of the plasmodium parasites to drugs has become a norm. even some of the strongest anti-malarials developed ever, barely lasted ten years in the market before the parasites became resistant. Another big challenge in eradicating malaria is the fact that there are four clearly defined species of plasmodium and some are still being discovered in different pats of the world. A drug/vaccine that works efficaciously against plasmodium vivax may have no effect on plasmodium falciparum. Malaria is responsible for the death of over 400,000 people with two thirds of them being children aged below 5 years.
Billions of dollars have been invested and poured into the fight against malaria especially in the developing countries of Africa. Bill Gates himself is well known to be on the forefront in fighting this deadly disease. But even with all that money, resource and the stringent measures put in place by various governments, the realization of a malaria free world has not been realized just yet. The use of long lasting treated mosquito nets and destruction of breeding grounds for mosquitoes have really helped in reducing the prevalence of the disease. Within the last decade, for example, in Kenya, the prevalence of malaria has drastically reduced from 40-60% in the lake region to about 27%. this figures are still pretty high. With the advent of better anti-malarials, the mortality rate has also dropped drastically. But this is not enough.
“The only 100% sure remedy for any infectious disease is vaccination,” said Dr. Collins Tabu of the National vaccine and Immunization Program during the launch of the new malaria vaccine on the evening of Tuesday, 22nd may 2018 in Kisumu at the acacia premium hotel. He narrated how small pox had been eradicated from the face of the earth and that we were on our way as a country in eradicating polio and other vaccinatable diseases. Dr. Kibet Sang of the NMCP, also a presenter at the function gave a detailed power point narration of the struggle that has been the development of a malaria vaccine. He explained that there have been numerous candidates in the past but all of them have failed due to one reason or the other. He spoke on the impact of current interventions and it was clear that more needed to be done.
Attending the function was UON’s renown pediatric lecturer prof. Fred Were. “We have for a long time been focusing on the vector for malaria instead of focusing on the carriers of the parasite, humans. Mosquitoes are born sterile and only get infected by humans,” explained the professor, “if we manage to make humans sterile of malaria, then mosquitoes would not be worrisome, only a nuisance,”
RTS,S/ASO1, as is the name of the vaccine, has been in development for a very long time; more than 30 years now. According to Dr. Bernhard Ogutu of KEMRI, the vaccine was initially developed for adults but this failed. it has now been shown to provide protection against malaria in young children. It is effective against plasmodium falciparum which is the deadliest of all the parasites globally and also the most prevalent one in Africa. Trials for the vaccine have been done throughout sub-Saharan countries in Africa. A total of 11 countries were targeted and the vaccine approved by WHO for pilot introduction. Out of these, however only 3 met the standards for piloting the vaccine: Kenya, Ghana and Malawi.
The team that developed the vaccine and that has been working tirelessly to see the completion of this project was based in Kenya and was led by the great prof. Joe Cohen of GSK and included veteran pediatricians and doctors such as ; prof. Fred Were of UON, Dr. Kibet Sang of NMCP, Dr. Bernhars Ogutu of KEMRI Dr. Collins Tabu of NVIP and Dr. Walter Otieno of Maseno university, just to name a few.
The vaccine is totaly safe for use but can cause seizures within the first 7 days of administration. The vaccine will be available to all children and will be given in conjunction with the existing immunization protocols. RTS,S will be given in four doses with the 1st 2nd and 3rd at one month intervals while the 4th being administered 18 months later.
For more information on the bringing to reality the long dream that has been a viable and working malaria vaccine check out the following websites:
Q&A on phase 3 trail results for the malaria vaccine on http://www.who.int/malaria/media/rtss-phase-3-trial-qa/en/