Malaria, transmitted by infected Anopheles mosquitoes, causes more than 780,000 deaths each year. The deaths occur disproportionately in Africa, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa. Conventional malaria prevention methods include insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs) and indoor residual spraying (IRS).
Earlier this week, the results of a Phase III study in 7 African nations showed that RST,S/AS01 (vaccine against P. Falciparum – deadliest of the four malaria types) reduces the risk of severe malaria in children by 47 per cent. The drug is developed by GlaxoSmithKline in partnership with the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, and funded by the Gates Foundation. It has taken 24 years since the drug development process started to get to this point.
What seems to be the world’s first malaria vaccine is well under way, with final results expected in 2014. However, amidst all the excitement and hope, one can’t help but wonder the implications of this vaccine on Global Health. Granted this is a significant health care and scientific progress, but most vaccines in use today have an efficacy of at least 90-95% (e.g. influenza vaccine). Can this malaria vaccine, and should it, be used by doctors in developing countries in the long term? How do you think public policy in developing countries, especially African nations, will change? Furthermore, how do you think the availability of this vaccine will affect the use of other and much cheaper malaria prevention methods such as ITNs and IRS?