Kenya and Ghana are the two countries that have been selected along with Malawi to undertake this pilot project of the new vaccine called RTSS that trains the immune system to attack the malaria parasite.
The Ministry of Health’s national malaria control programme manager, Michael Kayange, said at a press conference at the capital in Lilongwe that the first malaria vaccine was aimed at eradicating malaria in Africa and would be targeting children under the age of five to 17 months old in the first wave.
The development came as Zambia and Zimbabwe last week signed a Memorandum of Understanding on technical co-operation in malaria control and elimination.
The agreement would result in the two countries combining efforts to conduct indoor residual spraying on either side of the Zambezi River.
“Malaria is the number one cause of illness and death in the country with an estimated 3.3 million episodes of malaria in 2015 and 4,490 reported deaths from the disease,” said Malawi’s Kayange, adding that malaria was also the leading cause of illness and death in children less than five years of age.
Kayange says the pilot implementation would be carried out by the expanded programme on malaria.
WHO national programme officer for malaria, Wilfred Dodoli, said the pilot programme would gauge whether the vaccine’s protective effect in children within the five to 17 months age range during the phase three testing could be replicated in real-life.
“The vaccine would be a valuable addition to the measures currently taken to control malaria therefore complementing other existing interventions that the ministry of health is already doing.
“The pilot programme will assess the feasibility of delivering the required four doses of Mosquirix; the vaccine potential role is to reduce childhood deaths and its safety in the context of routine use. We want to eliminate malaria by 2030,” said Dodoli.
Regional Director for World Health Organisation for Africa Dr. Matshidiso Moeti in Nairobi last week said “the vaccine will be assessed as the complementary intervention in Africa that can be added to our existing tool box of proven preventive diagnostic and treatment measures”.
The malaria vaccine has been developed by pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline and about $49 million for the first phase of the pilot is being funded by the global vaccine alliance GAVI, UNITAID and Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
Southern Africa is yet to benefit from the elimination of this deadly malaria parasite which carries no respect for borders and which despite the tremendous progress that has been made in reducing malaria deaths in the last decade.
This preventable and treatable disease still kills approximately 450 000 people every year. As cross-border transmission of the disease is still rife all across southern Africa, it is unlikely that any single country would be able to achieve malaria elimination on its own, hence for now the hope lies in the vaccine.
The MoU between Zambia and Zimbabwe, signed in the resort town of Victoria Falls, was mooted in 2009 against a backdrop of challenges faced by the SADC region as a result of malaria, when the WHO advised countries to co-operate in spraying and immunization programmes.
A similar agreement was signed between Namibia and Zimbabwe in Harare last Wednesday where President Mugabe hosted his Namibian counterpart Dr Hage Geingob. Zimbabwe was expected to sign similar agreements with Mozambique and Malawi in Tete Province as the regional bloc fights to eradicate the disease.