The world's first malaria vaccine took 30 years and cost $52.1 million — you'll get it for a dollar or two

Health worker gives one of the children a dose of the malaria vaccine in MalawiWHO

  • The world's first malaria vaccine is implemented in the African country of Malawi.
  • Malawi is the first of three pilot countries under the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (MVIP).
  • It took 3 decades and over $52.1 million for the World Health Organisation (WHO) to finally test the malaria vaccine in the real world.
It has taken three decades for the World Health Organisation (WHO) to finally start testing the world's first malaria vaccine in the African country of Malawi using funds amounting to $52.1 million (₹3.6 billion) for the first four years of doses.

Malaria is a constant threat in the African communities where this vaccine will be given. The poorest children suffer the most and are at highest risk of death.

Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa

Financing for the project came from three global health funding bodies. The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria approved $15 million, while Gavi — the vaccine alliance — promised $27.5 million and UNITAID contributed $9.6 million.

Malawi is only the first in three countries — Kenya and Ghana — where the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (MVIP) will be implemented to test the RTS,S vaccine. It's only malaria vaccine, till date, that has been able to reduce significantly reduce malaria in children.

The countries were chosen by the WHO for MVIP were selected on the basis of their well functioning malaria and immunisation programmes as well as the desire to engage in the MVIP by their respective ministries of health.

But, how much does it actually cost to use

The malaria vaccine isn't as cheap as 'long lasting, insecticide-treated nets' currently regarded the most cost effective way to control malaria but the WHO predicts that RTS,S will have a positive health impact over the next 15 years. During the clinical trials, the malaria vaccine was able to prevent 4 in 10 malaria cases.

WHO also analysed that, at the price of $1 or $2, the vaccine will be highly cost-effective in most African countries even at the threshold of the four dose schedule.

But the RTS,S vaccine is only meant to be a complementary tool to be used in cohesion with the existing malaria prevention package by the WHO — which includes installing insecticidal bed nets, spraying insecticides on walls inside the home as well as other diagnostic and treatment measures — since it only provides partial protection against the disease.

Three decades in the making

The malaria vaccine — RTS,S — took GloxoSmithKline (GSK), PATH and a network of African research centres thirty years to develop.

In order to initiate the pilot implementation of the vaccine, a five year Phase 3 'efficacy and safety' trial was conducted in 7 African countries between 2009 and 2014.

Then in 2015, the European Medicines Agency's (EMA) Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use(CHMP) gave RTS,S a positive scientific opinion deciding that the benefits of the vaccine outweigh the risks.

…despite its limited efficacy, the benefits of Mosquirix outweigh the risks in both age groups studied.

Conclusion on RTS,S by the European Medicines Agency’s Committee for Medicinal Products for Human Use

Once the approval was in place, WHO issued its recommendation to initiate the pilot vaccination project in 'sufficiently large populations' to determine the impact and feasibility of RTS,S.

If the MVIP successful, WHO will able to recommend broader use of the same vaccine.
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