UN secures malaria vaccine supply with landmark deal

Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. /CFP
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. /CFP

The UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) on Tuesday announced it had awarded a landmark contract for the provision of 18 million doses of the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine for a period of three years.

The agency noted that the WHO-approved vaccine could potentially save thousands of lives every year.

RTS,S/AS01 has already been piloted program in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, reaching more than 1 million children since 2019.

“This vaccine rollout gives a clear message to malaria vaccine developers to continue their work because malaria vaccines are needed and wanted,” said Etleva Kadilli, Director of UNICEF’s Supply Division. “We hope this is just the beginning. Continued innovation is needed to develop new and next-generation vaccines to increase available supply, and enable a healthier vaccine market. This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria as part of wider malaria prevention and control programs.”

According to WHO data, more than 30 countries have areas with moderate to high malaria transmission, where the vaccine could provide added protection against malaria to over 25 million children each year once the supply scales up.

RTS, S/AS01 is the first-ever vaccine against a parasitic disease.

“Lives are at stake, every day. WHO welcomes the progress to secure supply and timely access to vaccine so that more countries can begin to introduce this additional malaria prevention tool as rapidly as possible,” said Dr. Kate O’Brien, WHO Director of the Department of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. ”Given the initial limited supply, it is crucial that children living in areas where the risk of disease and need is highest are prioritized first.”

Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. It is preventable and curable.

According to WHO data, Africa carries a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2020, the region was home to 95 percent of malaria cases and 96 percent of malaria deaths.