Efforts to make malaria history have had huge success in recent years. Now, there’s hope that a long-awaited vaccine can go the last mile

Health



23 April 2021

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Eight-year-old Trizah Makungu sits on the bed she shares with her parents, protected by a mosquito net. These nets, which cost about $5 in the local market, have helped save millions of lives

Lena Mucha

“We longed for it to come,” Janet Mula told me, recalling her reaction to hearing that scientists were developing a vaccine against malaria. Mula, a nurse I met while travelling in rural Kenya, has seen the devastation caused by this disease first-hand. Each year, it sickens more than 200 million people globally, killing at least 400,000. The vast majority of cases are in sub-Saharan Africa, with the biggest burden falling on younger people. “Malaria causes many complications for children – anaemia, organ failure, jaundice, liver complication,” says Mula.

That could soon change, however. While most of the world is focusing on new vaccines for the coronavirus, thousands of Kenyan children are finally receiving a longed-for malaria vaccine, 37 years after development on it started. Since 2019, Kenya, Ghana and Malawi have been taking part in a pilot programme coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO). If it is successful, the vaccine will be rolled out to infants across Africa. As this went to press, trial results of another vaccine developed by the University of Oxford suggested it was 77 per cent effective.

 

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Two girls cut grass in a watery field in Kakamega County, Kenya. Malaria is spread by female Anopheles mosquitos, which breed in stagnant water and proliferate during the rainy season

Lena Mucha

Some hope these vaccines will eventually help to eradicate malaria entirely. Every year on 25 April, World Malaria Day, …