The incredible work by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) and contribution by children in Kericho, Kisumu and Kilifi has finally paid off, giving the world its first ever malaria vaccine.
This comes after the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday officially announced that the jab, known as RTS, S (Mosquirix), after a decision by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts in Immunisation (SAGE) and the Malaria Policy Advisory Group (MPAG) resolved to back the widespread deployment of the jab following trials in Kenya, Ghana and Malawi.
In 2019, Kenya became the third country to embrace the malaria vaccine clinical trials.
The vaccine commercial name is Mosquirix and was developed jointly by GlaxoSmithKline, a British pharmaceutical, together with PATH and the African research institutes.
According to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, this marks ‘a historic day’ as the vaccine has taken 30 years to come to fruition.
"We still have a long road to travel. But this is a long stride down that road.
“The malaria vaccine is a gift to the world but its value will be felt most in Africa where the burden of malaria is greatest.
“I thank the researchers in Africa who generated the data and insights that informed this decision – this is a vaccine developed in Africa, by African scientists.
“Malaria has been with us for millennia, and the dream of a malaria vaccine has been long-held but unattainable dream.
“Today, the RTS, S malaria vaccine -- more than 30 years in the making -- changes the course of public health, ” he said.
The WHO director-general went ahead to remind the world that using the new jab in addition to existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.
“This long-awaited malaria vaccine is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control.”
According to WHO, more than 800,000 children in the three African countries that participated in the trials have been given at least one dose of the vaccine since 2019 as part of the normal childhood immunisation programme, with experts saying that the vaccine proves safe and prevented 30 per cent of severe cases of malaria.
With this new development, Kemri’s joy knows no bounds.
“A good day for science!” The research institute said in a tweet.
"After more than 2 million doses of the vaccine were provided through routine immunisation systems in the 3 pilot countries, and hundreds of thousands of children were vaccinated, there is no evidence that the safety signals seen in the previous Phase 3 trial were caused by the vaccine. The vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective in the pilots and in a number of other recent RTS, S clinical studies.
“The assessment at the time of the regulatory review and by the Data Safety Monitoring Board (DSMB) of the clinical trials was that the observations were chance findings, which this pilot programme has now resolved," Kemri said in an official statement.
It added that the impact from this vaccine when added on top of currently used malaria control interventions is significant and can result in a major and important reduction in illness and deaths and can considerably reduce the burden on the health system.
Speaking to the Nation by phone, Mr Aaron Samuels, the director of Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Kenya Malaria Programme, who is also the principal investigator for the malaria vaccine, described this achievement as historic.
“I think this is a historic event for the world and particularly Kenya where there is malaria that is systemic. This vaccine will be life saving for children throughout sub-Saharan Africa. I wish to thank and celebrate KemrI who have been very instrumental to make this recommendation and vaccine a success.
“I am just proud to be alive to witness this but now we have a lot of work to be done on implementation — how it will be funded, who will fund it and the role African leaders have to play because we need to come together to make these decisions ,” he said.
In an official statement, PATH, a non-profit global health organisation based in Seattle, Washington, USA, said that it is gratifying to know that a malaria vaccine developed specifically for African children could soon be more widely available.
“This is especially true now when progress in combatting malaria has stalled in parts of the African region and children remain at increased risk of dying from the disease,” said Dr Nathalie Mugala, PATH’s chief of the Africa region said.
Last year President Uhuru Kenyatta launched a Zero Malaria Starts with Me campaign as the person at the helm of the Africa Leaders Malaria Alliance.
The government in February launched the End Malaria Council (EMC) consisting of 12 members and one of their strategies is on malaria prevention.
Kenya became the fifth country to join EMC initiative.