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Malaria sickness could be cut by 70%, study finds

Published on 26/08/21 at 10:13am

Researchers from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) have found a new approach to protecting young African children from malaria could reduce deaths and illness from the disease by 70%.

RTS,S vaccines, created by GSK over 20 years ago, were administered before the worst season, in addition to preventative drugs, to 6,000 children aged under 17 months in Burkina Faso and Mali.

The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, focused on administering a vaccine already in use to very young children alongside anti-malarial drugs, before the time of year they are most vulnerable - often the rainy season (from June in Burkina Faso), when mosquitoes multiply.

"It worked better than we thought would be the case," said Professor Brian Greenwood, a member of the research team from the LSHTM.

"Hospital admissions were less, deaths were less in both countries and we really didn't expect to see that."

Over three years, the trial found three doses of the vaccine and drugs before the worst malaria season, followed by a booster dose before subsequent rainy seasons, controlled infections much better than vaccines or drugs alone – and, the researchers said, could save millions of young lives in the African Sahel.

Among the children who received vaccine doses and drugs, there were:

  • 624 cases of malaria
  • 11 children treated in hospital with severe malaria
  • three deaths from malaria

Among the same number of children who received preventative drugs alone, there were:

  • 1,661 malaria cases
  • 37 admissions to hospital
  • 11 deaths from malaria

Scientists say the combined effects of the vaccine and drugs in the trial appear to be surprisingly powerful.

The WHO’s global malaria programme director, Dr Pedro Alonso, said: "We welcome this innovative use of a malaria vaccine to prevent disease and death in highly seasonal areas in Africa."

The vaccine has already reached more than 740,000 children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, as part of routine childhood-vaccine programme. Researchers in Mali say they look forward to "a quick policy decision" by the WHO for this new approach.

Kat Jenkins

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