The risk for children in Africa of getting malaria is thought to be reduced by as much as 50 per cent as a result of a vaccine against the disease. According to the first results of an ongoing phase III trial released, the vaccine (known as RTS,S) is the first of its kind to attempt to block a parasite, rather than bacteria or viruses.
The trial is underway in seven sub-Saharan African regions, and preliminary findings from data from 6 000 children show that children, aged between 17 months and 5 years who received three doses of the vaccine, saw a 56 per cent lower risk of developing clinical malaria and a 47 per cent lower risk of developing severe malaria (the stage of the illness that can be fatal).
Malaria kills almost 780 000 people per year, most of them children under the age of five in rural or impoverished regions of sub-Saharan Africa, where clinics and commodities can be difficult to access. Together with long-lasting insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying, rapid diagnostic tests, and artemisinin-based combination therapies, this new vaccine can make a major contribution to the global goal of “near-zero deaths by 2015”.
Chairperson of the RTS,S Clinical Trials Partnership, Tsiri Agbenyega, stated that “This is remarkable when you consider that there has never been a successful vaccine against a human parasite,” but warns that while the results are encouraging, “we still have a way to go.” More than 15 000 children in seven African countries are enrolled in the trial, which is set to continue for two more years.