With anti-malarials, long lasting insecticide-treated nets (LLIN) and other interventions being deployed to reduce the impact of malaria, the World Health Organisation (WHO) recently set a new target of 2030 of developing new malaria vaccines that will reduce the number of malaria cases by 75 percent and eliminate the disease in multiple settings.
This target, according to the ‘2013 Malaria Vaccine Technology Roadmap’ comes in addition to the original 2006 roadmap goal of having a licensed vaccine against Plasmodium falciparum malaria, considered the most deadly form of the disease for children under five years of age in sub-Saharan Africa by 2015.
Recent figures by WHO indicate that malaria causes an estimated 660,000 deaths annually from 219 million cases of illness. While scale-up of malaria prevention and control interventions had the greatest impact in countries with high malaria transmission, available records show over 50 percent of Nigerians suffer from at least one episode of malaria annually.
While over 80 percent of Nigeria’s 167 million people are at risk of malaria infection, malaria imposes huge burden in terms of pains, loss in outputs and cost of treatments. According to Onyebuchi Chukwu, minister of Health, Nigeria loses about N480billion yearly to malaria even as malaria-related illnesses and mortality is estimated to cost Africa’s economy about $12 billion annually.
Robert Newman, director, WHO’s global malaria programme, said that safe, effective, affordable vaccines could play a critical role in defeating malaria. “Despite all the recent progress countries have made, and despite important innovations in diagnostics, drugs and vector control, the global burden of malaria remains unacceptably high,” Newman noted.
WHO has listed 27 malaria vaccine candidates currently in clinical trials with most in early stages of testing; RTS, S/AS01 is the only one currently in late-stage development. With final results from Phase III trials of the most advanced vaccine candidates, RTS and S/AS01 is expected to be available by 2015.
Depending on the final trial results and outcome of regulatory review by the European Medicines Agency, WHO recommendation for use and subsequent prequalification of this first vaccine is anticipated by late 2015.
The 2013 Malaria Vaccine Technology Roadmap cited several reasons for the update, among them changing malaria epidemiology associated with the successful scale-up of malaria control measures in the last decade, a renewed focus on malaria elimination and eradication in addition to the ongoing need to sustain malaria control activities, and new technological innovations since 2006 including promising early work on so called transmission-blocking malaria vaccines.
The Roadmap’s vision centres on developing safe and effective vaccines against Plasmodium falciparum and Plasmodium vivax that prevent disease and death and prevent transmission to enable malaria eradication.