Scientists have developed a highly effective vaccine to prevent malaria, which kills hundreds of thousands of people each year, latest trials show.
The Jenner Institute of Oxford University announced that during their phase two trials concerning 450 children in Burkina Faso over 12 months, the vaccine achieved 77% efficacy, surpassing the World Health Organization’s (WHO) goal of 75% efficacy, according to the Guardian.
Malaria is a deadly disease caused by parasites transmitted to people through the bites of infected mosquitoes, which kills an estimated 400,000 children every year. In 2019, there were around 229 million cases reported around the world, with 94% of malaria cases and deaths on the African continent.
Malaria No More, a nonprofit organization that aims to end death caused by malaria, says that malaria costs less than £1 to treat, but devastates health systems and costs the African economy more than $12 billion every year.
“We can end malaria in our generation but only if governments invest in the research needed to deliver the new medicines and products that can accelerate the end of this terrible disease,” said Gareth Jenkins, director of advocacy at Malaria No More UK, in a statement shared with Global Citizen.
In 2020, the World Malaria Report published by the WHO stated that malaria would likely kill more people in sub-Saharan Africa in 2020 than COVID-19, due to pandemic regulations that disrupted malaria prevention services.
For this reason, scientists at the Jenner Institute are hoping to mobilize the WHO for emergency-use approval of the vaccine to prevent the deaths of thousands of people in Africa, the same way the organization did for COVID-19 vaccines.
“They did COVID-19 in months — why shouldn’t they do malaria in a similar length of time as the health problem is an even greater scale in Africa?” Prof. Adrian Hill, director of the Jenner Institute, told the Guardian.
Researchers have been developing a vaccine for malaria for years, but none so far have been able to achieve such high efficacy rates. Stalled progress on fighting malaria has caused some public health experts to worry that people are becoming complacent and not devoting enough attention to practices that can drastically reduce cases.
World leaders can fight the mosquito-borne disease by increasing funding, providing anti-malarial drugs, distributing mosquito nets, surveilling malaria hotspots, and expanding testing and treatment.
With the high efficacy rate of the Jenner Institute’s vaccine, however, and plans to initiate larger trials involving thousands of children in four countries, experts are hopeful that they will be able to cut down the number of children dying from malaria.
“A world without malaria is a world safer both for the children who would otherwise be killed by this disease, and for us here at home,” Jenkins said. “Countries freed from the malaria burden will be much better equipped to fight off new disease threats when they inevitably emerge in the future.”