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A malaria vaccine in 2015?

Agencies
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The treatment could save lives of millions of children in worst-hit countries

This vaccine could be an important weapon in our armouryphoto: AFP
This vaccine could be an important weapon in our armouryphoto: AFP

A vaccine against malaria could be introduced in the world’s worst-hit countries in 2015, after the latest trial of a treatment produced by Britain’s biggest drug company reduced the number of cases of the disease experienced by babies.

The results of trials published this week showed that the RTS,S vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline nearly halved the cases of malaria experienced by children aged between five and seven months and cut the number of cases in babies aged 6 to 12 weeks by a quarter.

Every year, around 660,000 people die from malaria, most of them small children under the age of five. There are about 219m cases of the disease a year worldwide, and children who survive the serious illness can suffer damage to their health and development in their lifetime afterwards.

Inventing a malaria vaccine has involved breaking new medical ground. This is the first-ever vaccine against a parasite, said Duncan Learmouth from GSK.

There are other novel vaccines in development, such as one from the US that involves injecting patients with weakened parasites, but Learmouth insisted GSK was not rushing to get a licence because it feared competitors.

GSK says the vaccine will be not-for-profit — but it will add 5% to the cost price which will go towards further research and development work on tropical diseases.

Because the vaccine appears to be more effective in infants from five months of age, it may not be given at the same time as the basic immunisation for babies, such as diptheria, whooping cough and tetanus, but later, like measles and pneumococcal vaccine. The introduction of a booster jab, at 18 months, is now also being trialled to see if it can increase the duration of the vaccine’s protection.

"This is great hope for Africa," Nilton Saraivo, a manager of the national programme against malaria in Angola told AFP.

But others were more cautious.

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has the world's second highest death rate from malaria after Nigeria, the non-governmental organisation SANRU, which distributes mosquito nets, indicated it was too early to declare victory.

It noted that the RTS,S vaccine did not offer a complete shield, although trials -- including assessment of a booster shot -- are still ongoing.

"Any progress on fighting malaria is very welcome, and this vaccine could be another important weapon in our armoury," said Martin de Smet, a malaria specialist with the global health agency Doctors without Borders (MSF).Agencies

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