Kenya is among four African countries that will carry out a larger trial in nearly 5,000 children, on a malaria vaccine proven to be 77 per cent effective.
The results of trials on 450 children in Burkina Faso, by University of Oxford researchers, could be a major breakthrough against the disease that kills more than 40,000 people globally every year.
The participants were followed for 12 months and the vaccine found to be safe while showing a high level of efficacy.
Malaria is one of the leading causes of childhood mortality in Africa and has led to more deaths in the region in the past year than coronavirus
The disease accounted for more than 265,000 deaths of children in Africa in 2019.
Prof Charlemagne Ouédraogo, Minister of Health in Burkina Faso, said the new data showed that a new malaria vaccine could be licensed « in the coming years » congratulating the researchers for a job well done.
Halidou Tinto, a professor in parasitology and the principal trial investigator at the Clinical Research Unit of Nanoro, Burkina Faso, said the phase III trial will demonstrate large-scale safety and efficacy data for a vaccine that is greatly needed in the region.
« The results were very exciting and showed unprecedented efficacy levels. We are definitely looking forward to the upcoming phase, » he said
« Many lives are definitely going to be saved. »
The Serum Institute of India, which has manufactured the vaccine, has assured that it is capable of delivering more than 200 million doses once it is approved by the regulators.
Malaria remains a major public health concern in Kenya. Besides being the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the country, the disease is listed among the top 10 causes of outpatient visits countrywide.
The burden of the disease in Kenya is high in eight counties around Lake Victoria, a region that accounts for 70 per cent of the 6.5 million malaria cases nationally.
With the national prevalence rate standing at eight per cent, malaria continues to affect economic growth and the overall development agenda.
The vaccine is the first to reach the World Health Organization goal of an efficacy threshold of at least 75 per cent, after the one introduced in Kenya in 2019 whose efficacy rating was 55 per cent.
It is currently under trial in three African countries – Malawi, Ghana and Kenya.
In Kenya, the piloting is being done in eight counties with a high malaria prevalence, including Homabay, Kisumu, Migori, Siaya, Busia, Bungoma, Vihiga, and Kakamega.
Since the inception of the vaccine, the country has administered more than 450,000 doses, with more than 180,000 children having received the first dose by the end of April 2021.
Eligible children receive the vaccine from the age of six months, with the final dose given at around 24 months.
The new vaccine will be rolled out in 5,000 children between ages of five and three years.
Prof Adrian Hill, study author and director of the Jenner Institute and professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, noted that this is the first to meet the WHO threshold after many attempts to come up with a malaria vaccine over the years.
« This will definitely have a major public health impact, » he said.
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through mosquito bites. Although preventable and curable, the WHO estimates there were 229 million cases worldwide in 2019 and 409,000 deaths.
Once bitten, one exhibits symptoms including fever, headaches and chills and, without treatment, can progress quickly to severe illness and often death.
Prof Hill indicated that the trials started in 2019, long before the coronavirus appeared, and the Oxford team developed its Covid-19 vaccine (with AstraZeneca) on the strength of its research on malaria.
According to data from the Ministry of Health, there has been a decrease in malaria out-patient attendance from 30 per cent in 2016 to 19 per cent in 2020. Inpatient admissions reduced from 20 per cent to 15 per cent the same year.
The number of confirmed malaria cases decreased from 113 per 1,000 of the population per year in 2016 to 86 per 1,000 population per year in 2020.
More efforts are geared towards ensuring a reduction in malaria cases to attain the goal set by the programme – of reducing malaria incidences and deaths by 75 per cent of the 2016 level by 2023.
The overall vision for Kenya is to have a malaria-free country.