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‘Historic day’: WHO go-ahead for broad use of first-ever malaria vaccine for children in Africa

The first vaccine for malaria, the mosquito-borne disease that kills about 400,000 people each year, is set to be deployed more widely after more than three decades of work and about $1 billion in investment.

The vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline Plc and its partners won a recommendation from the World Health Organization (WHO) on Wednesday for use in children in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions with moderate to high transmission. It marks a turning point in a battle against the parasite that causes malaria.

The shot prevented only about four in 10 malaria cases among children who received four doses in a large study, but the injection, along with other measures, could still save hundreds of thousands of lives. Now the focus will shift to getting it to more people following a pilot program in Africa that began in 2019.

Following a meeting of the United Nations health agency’s vaccine advisory group, WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus spoke of “a historic moment”.

“Today’s recommendation offers a glimmer of hope for the continent, which shoulders the heaviest burden of the disease and we expect many more African children to be protected from malaria and grow into healthy adults,” Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said in a statement.

The WHO said its decision was based on results from ongoing research in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi that has tracked more than 800,000 children since 2019.

Many vaccines exists against viruses and bacteria but this was the first time that the WHO recommended for broad use a vaccine against a human parasite.

GSK, which has developed the shot with non-profit organisation PATH, committed to donating as many as 10 million doses for the ongoing pilot, and to supply as many as 15 million doses annually.

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