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Research, Malaria Elimination

The Malaria Vaccine Pilot Begins

ISGlobal collaborated directly in the clinical development of RTS,S, the world’s first vaccine against malaria

Photo: Andalu Vila San Juan

The World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that the world’s first vaccine against malaria -and the first vaccine ever against a parasite-, called RTS,S, is being implemented on a large scale in Malawi, while Ghana and Kenya will introduce the vaccine in the coming weeks. The objective of this pilot program is to understand if the effectiveness observed in clinical trials can be extrapolated to real conditions of implementation.

The vaccine confers partial protection to small children and needs four doses to sustain sufficient immunity. Thus, following the positive evaluation of the European Medicines Agency, WHO experts recommended that, before its widespread implementation, the vaccine should be evaluated in three countries of sub-Saharan Africa: Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. The pilot program launched yesterday will immunize 360,000 children between 5 and 24 months each year in selected areas of the three countries through routine vaccination programs. The objective is to evaluate the impact of the vaccine once it is integrated into existing health systems, as well as its impact on overall infant mortality and its safety in the context of routine use. Funding for this program, coordinated by the WHO and with the collaboration of the Ministries of Health of the countries involved, comes from three key organizations in Global Health: Gavi, the Alliance of Vaccines; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Unitaid. Additionally, the NGO PATH will provide in-kind support, and the pharmaceutical company GSK will donate 10 million vaccine doses.

ISGlobal and CISM, with the support of the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, the University of Barcelona, the Spanish International Cooperation Agency (AECID) and the Mozambican Ministry of Health, among other institutions, provided early proof-of-concept studies on the safety and partial efficacy of the vaccine, which led to the phase 3 clinical trial, the first of its type in Africa. Currently, ISGlobal is coordinating studies on the immune response to the RTS,S vaccine that will provide a better understanding of its protective mechanisms and will allow the improvement of this and other vaccines.

In the long run, experts recommend that the vaccine should also be investigated in the context of malaria elimination. This is a goal in which ISGlobal is fully engaged in Southern Mozambique, in collaboration with CISM and with support from "la Caixa contra la Malaria" program.