Malaria vaccine, a key step

A health surveillance assistant (HAS) gets malaria vaccine from its bottle into an injection to be administered to a child at the beginning of the Malaria vaccine implementation pilot programme at Mitundu Community hospital in Malawi's capital district of

Last week’s launch of a pilot programme of anti-malaria vaccination is an important event in the fight against the deadly mosquito-borne disease. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced that children under two years would be immunised with the vaccine Mosquirix in Malawi, a South-eastern African country, in the first phase of the prgramame. It will be extended soon to Kenya and Ghana, and the plan is to bring about 3,60,000 children under the programme every year. African countries have been selected for the pilot project because the continent accounts for most of the malaria cases and the casualties resulting from the disease. Malaria kills more than 1,000 people every day worldwide, and it is the top killer of children. Some children get affected many times. It is one of the few mass killer diseases against which no vaccine had been developed and that is why the launch of Mosquirix is important. 

It took over 30 years for the vaccine to be developed as the result of a private research project supported by the WHO, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and an international NGO Path. Treatment of malaria is difficult because the parasite that causes it acts fast. By the time it is diagnosed, especially in poor and developing countries where the public health system is inadequate, the disease often becomes difficult to control. Prevention is best, but the parasite develops resistance to drugs quickly and mutates. That is why Mosquirix may become very useful in the efforts to control the disease. The success of the rollout in Africa will be important for India where the burden of the disease is high. India has reduced the number of malaria cases in the last few years but over 8 million cases are still reported in a year. 

While the vaccine may turn out to have an important role in the fight against the disease, it has its limitations too. Trials have shown that it is effective in only 40% of the cases while the success rate of vaccines against measles and chicken pox are 97% and 85%, respectively. But it has also been found that the severity of the disease is less if immunised children contract it again. It will need more research to make the vaccine more effective in future. It is now considered as a complementary tool to control the disease, to be used as part of a package of preventive measures like mosquito control and timely testing and diagnosis and treatment with the existing drugs. The WHO thinks it is a valuable tool because, even with a 40% impact, it can save tens of thousands of lives. 

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