Early clinical trials of a new malaria vaccine are raising hopes of a major breakthrough against the disease.
For the first time, the vaccine trials showed a high efficacy rate above the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) standard.
When trialled in 450 children in Burkina Faso, the Oxford-developed vaccine prevented the disease 77% of the time amongst those receiving it. In a landmark achievement, the result exceeded the WHO’s target efficacy rate of 75%.
The vaccine is now set to undergo further scrutiny in larger and tougher trials.
Why is this significant?
The development of an effective and safe COVID-19 vaccine may have taken less than a year, but efforts to do the same for malaria have been ongoing for the last half century.
This is mainly due to the low investment in developing a vaccine for a disease that mainly affects low and middle-income countries. In addition, the malaria parasite is complex and requires a very high immune response to fight it off.
In 2019, the WHO says almost half of the world’s population was at risk of malaria and most deaths occur in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2019, the six countries that accounted for approximately half of all malaria deaths worldwide included: Nigeria, the Democratic Republic of Congo, United Republic of Tanzania, Burkina Faso, Mozambique, and Niger.
What is malaria?
Malaria is an ancient disease that has been afflicting humans for thousands of years. The illness is caused by a parasite that is spread through mosquito bites, but can also be transmitted between humans. Symptoms include fever, chills and headache and can be difficult to recognise as malaria.
One of the five parasite species that cause malaria in humans – P. falciparum – can lead to severe illness, and even death, if not treated within 24 hours. In 2018, P. falciparum accounted for 99.7% of estimated malaria cases in the African Region, 50% of cases in the South-East Asia Region, 71% of cases in the Eastern Mediterranean and 65% in the Western Pacific.
229 million: the number of estimated malaria cases worldwide in 2019.
5: the most vulnerable group of malaria sufferers are aged under five years old.
94%: the proportion of malaria cases that burden the African region.
409,000: the number of estimated malaria deaths in 2019.