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New Malaria Vaccine Shows Promise in Kenya

Malaria control efforts currently depend mostly on things like chemically-treated mosquito nets and spraying against the disease-carrying insects. But scientists in Kenya say that next year, a new malaria vaccine will be available that could add an important component to malaria control and potentially eradicate the disease.

Malaria kills more than 500,000 people a year worldwide, and causes illness in millions more, most of them children living in sub-Saharan Africa.
A third of all patients in Kenya's third-largest city, Kisumu, and its environs suffer from malaria.

Although existing interventions have helped to reduce the disease over the past decade, scientists in this lab in western Kenya are working on a vaccine -- with the help of Britain's GlaxoSmithKline and other partners -- that could add an important component to malaria control.

Scientist say vaccinating people, especially young children, is the key to eradicating the disease.

Dr. Martina Oneko helped to carry out the vaccination process in rural western Kenya.

"We saw a very good success of the vaccine resulting in health improvements in these children. They were just not sick as their counterparts in the community who were not vaccinated. The overall vaccine efficacy in the older age group for all the sites was 47 percent and in the younger age it was 27 percent," Oneko explained.

The RTS vaccine prevents the malaria parasite from infecting, maturing and multiplying in the liver, from which it normally re-enters the blood and infects red blood cells, leading to the disease.

Some residents have welcomed the initiative.

"Pregnant mothers and even children, unborn babies, they've been dying because of malaria, so I think with the introduction of that vaccine will save many young lives," Jepheth Mume said.

Mercy Adhiambo added, "Even me, I will use it, even my family will use it and we accept it."

According to researchers, the vaccine may not be the final answer to malaria, but along with other measures like mosquito nets, spraying drainage systems and clearing bushes, it may make a big difference to millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa.

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