GENEVA, Switzerland: In a historic moment in combating malaria, one of humanity's deadliest plagues that primarily kills infants, children across most of Africa are to be vaccinated against the disease.
The malaria vaccine, known as RTS,S, which was proven effective six years ago after more than a century of failed attempts to find a vaccine, is being recognized as one of medicine's greatest achievements.
Following successful pilot immunization programs in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, the World Health Organization (WHO) said the vaccine will be made available across sub-Saharan Africa and other regions with moderate to high numbers of malaria cases.
"The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and disease control. It could save tens of thousands of young lives each year," said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, as quoted by the BBC.
Africa has suffered the most from the parasitic disease, which is spread by mosquito bites, with more than 260,000 children dying in 2019.
"It is quite an exciting moment for us. With large scale vaccinations, I believe the malaria toll will be reduced to the barest minimum," said Dr. Kwame Amponsa-Achiano, who piloted the vaccine in Ghana, according to the BBC.
While trials in 2015 showed the vaccine had a prevention rate of some 40 percent in overall malaria cases, and 30 percent in severe cases, there were still doubts about its effectiveness in the real world, as it requires four doses to be effective.
The outcomes of the trials were discussed by two WHO advisory groups on Wednesday, with results from more than 2.3 million doses showing the vaccine was safe, reduced the rate of severe malaria by 30 percent, and did not negatively affect other routine vaccinations or preventative measures.
"We have been looking for a malaria vaccine for over 100 years. It will save lives and prevent disease in African children," said Dr. Pedro Alonso, Director of the WHO Global Malaria Program, as reported by the BBC.
However, the vaccination will not be available outside of Africa, as it is not effective against other types of malaria-causing parasites in other parts of the world.