More African Countries Roll Out Malaria Vaccine, While Babies Get New Treatment Formulation
A rollout of malaria vaccine in Western African countries with a special focus on immunising children is an important step towards eliminating the disease

Rollout of malaria vaccines are starting in Benin, Sierra Leone and Liberia, and the West African countries plan to deliver more than 800 000 doses of the RTS,S or R21 vaccines, according to WHO.

The new vaccine will be added to their immunisation programmes for children, and are expected to protect over 200,000 children from the life-threatening disease. The RTS.S vaccine can be administered to children as young as five months old.

In another promising development against malaria, a new formulation of a malaria treatment, Coartem, has proven to be safe and efficacious for babies under five kilograms, a previously overlooked group of patients.

Pharmaceutical company Novartis and Medicines for Malaria Venture (MMV), a leading product development partnership, announced that their product has good efficacy and safety and is appropriate for babies in the wake of the successful CALINA study.

The trial data have been submitted for regulatory review, they informed during the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria conference.

“Infants below five kilograms make up a critical neglected group, and developing antimalarials specifically suited to their needs is essential to malaria control efforts,” said Wiweka Kaszubska, MMV vice president.

The new formulation, known as Coartem <5 kg Baby, uses a new ratio and dose of artemether-lumefantrine to account for metabolic differences in babies under 5kg to minimise the risk of overdose and toxicity.

“Infants under five kg can be affected by placental malaria, leading to poor birth outcomes, or contract malaria from the bite of an infected mosquito. The prevalence of the disease in this age and weight group is poorly understood, and it is therefore often misdiagnosed,” according to a company media release.

Current antimalarials have not been developed small babies, who are usually treated with tablets meant for children above 5 kg adjusted by weight – yet, these tiny patients handle drugs differently due to the immaturity of their metabolising organs.

Decreasing the burden

Malaria is a life-threatening infectious disease with an estimated 249 million cases and 608 000 deaths in 2022, according to the World Malaria Report 2023. It is present in 85 countries, with 95% of cases in the African region. Most of the fatalities in the region – four out of five – are children under the age of five.

“With the new, safe and efficacious malaria vaccine, we now have an additional tool to fight this disease. In combination with insecticide-treated nets, effective diagnosis and treatment, and indoor spraying, no child should die from malaria infection,” said Dr Austin Demby, the Minister of Health of Sierra Leone.

The emerging interventions will likely decrease the burden of malaria substantially. In the recent years, (2019-2023), a pilot malaria vaccine programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi reached over two million children, showing a significant reduction in malaria illness. It also reached a 13% drop in overall child mortality and a reduction in hospitalisations.

Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone joined five other African countries that have already implemented the rollout of the newly developed malaria vaccines.

Image Credits: WHO.

Combat the infodemic in health information and support health policy reporting from the global South. Our growing network of journalists in Africa, Asia, Geneva and New York connect the dots between regional realities and the big global debates, with evidence-based, open access news and analysis. To make a personal or organisational contribution click here on PayPal.