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Making the Most of the Malaria Vaccine

The first vaccine shown to provide partial protection against malaria in young children is now being made available through routine immunization programs in parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. But those programs – and the health systems in which they operate – have serious weaknesses.

ABUJA – A new malaria vaccine now being piloted in Sub-Saharan Africa, where 90% of malaria cases occur, could be a game changer in global health. But, if the new vaccine is to fulfill its potential, health ministries will need to make some important changes.

Each year, malaria kills one million people worldwide, the majority of whom are children under five years of age. The economic costs of the disease in Africa – treatment expenses, absenteeism from work, foregone education, decreased productivity, and loss of investment and tourism – are estimated to reach $12 billion annually.

The new RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) vaccine, developed by GlaxoSmithKline over 32 years at a cost of more than $700 million, could go a long way toward changing that. In clinical trials among children aged 5-17 months who received four doses, the vaccine prevented approximately four in ten (39%) cases of malaria over four years of follow-up, and about three in ten (29%) cases of severe malaria, with significant reductions in hospital admissions. The need for blood transfusions in severe cases was cut by 29%.

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