Malaria infects hundreds of millions of people every year and causes well over a half million deaths. The World Health Organization and its partners Thursday announced a new goal to license vaccines by 2030 that would sharply reduce malaria cases and eventually eliminate the disease.
The 2013 Malaria Vaccine Technology Roadmap was unveiled in Washington. It expands the scope of vaccine research, calling for vaccines that can reduce malaria cases by 75 percent and that are suitable for use in all endemic-areas. Malaria affects nearly 100 countries and territories, with a particularly heavy burden in sub-Saharan Africa.
“The most recent figures that we have from the World Health Organization are for an estimated 660,000 deaths each year. It’s hard to get your head around that number because it’s such a large figure, said Dr. Vasee Moorthy, who’s with the World Health Organization’s Department of Immunizations and Vaccines. "So another way of thinking about it is that’s about 2,000 deaths each day from malaria. Now most of those deaths are in children under five in Africa, but there are also deaths elsewhere in parts of the Americas, in the Middle East and in Asia. And in terms of the number of cases, those deaths are from about 219 million cases of malaria.”
While there are no licensed vaccines yet against malaria, progress has been made in reducing cases. That’s due to better diagnosis, drugs, insecticide-treated mosquito nets and control of mosquito populations, which carry the malaria parasites.
“We’ve seen a 26 percent reduction in global malaria death rates over the last decade. If we could successfully develop malaria vaccines, they could have an important complementary role together with these malaria control measures,” Moorthy said.
Moorthy said that the 2013 Malaria Vaccine Technology Roadmap builds upon the original roadmap unveiled in 2006.
“It’s a more ambitious target now -- in that the roadmap is now being expanded to include Plasmodium vivax as well as falciparum," he said. "So falciparum is the form of malaria that causes most of the deaths, but vivax wasn’t previously included.”
While Plasmodium vivax may not cause as many deaths, it’s the source of many new cases. This is true in many countries – especially in the Americas and Asia -- where progress has been made against the falciparum form of the disease. It often strikes adults, leaving them unable to work.
“The original roadmap included a goal of having a licensed vaccine by 2015 against the most deadly form of malaria, falciparum. And this is retained in the new roadmap -- and adding the new goal of having a second generation of vaccines licensed by 2030,” said Moorthy.
It’s not clear whether the 2015 goal will be met. There are 27 malaria vaccine candidates in clinical trial. The most advanced candidate, RTS,S/AS01, is in Phase III trials. The results will be available in 2015 and then undergo regulatory review.
The new Malaria Vaccine Technology Roadmap is a collaborative effort led by the WHO, along with the U.S. and European governments and agencies, donors, developers and NGOs.