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The World's First Malaria Vaccination Program Has Just Begun

Malaria is the world's largest killer of children globally and now the first malaria vaccination programs, led by the World Health Organisation (WHO, have begun.

Malaria is particularly dangerous for children, with one child in the world dying of the disease every 30 seconds, amounting to 3,000 children a day.

In 2017 there were over 219 million malaria infections and 430,000 deaths worldwide as a result.

WHO is rolling out the world's first vaccine for the disease, known as RTS, S/AS01. The vaccine completed its Phase III trials in 2015 and WHO committees called for the implementation of pilot programs to vaccination children in Sub-Saharan Africa -- a region that's home to 90 percent of malaria cases.

The WHO malaria vaccination program in Malawi. Source: Getty.

GSK, the pharmaceutical company that produces the vaccine, has donated ten million doses of it for use in the program in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.

While the vaccine is labour-intensive (children need a four-shot course),it has been shown to prevent 40 percent of malaria cases over a four-year period and stops 30 percent of life-threatening cases of malaria.

WHO's Director-General, Doctor Tedros Adhanom said that the vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives.

"We have seen tremendous gains from bed nets and other measures to control malaria in the last 15 years, but progress has stalled and even reversed in some areas."

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The vaccine has been shown to be safe in long-term trials so far, with the only reported adverse reactions being the same as other childhood vaccinations (fever, irritability, drowsiness, or rashes).

The WHO has started the first program of malaria vaccinations in Sub-Saharan Africa. Source: Getty.

The race to develop a malaria vaccine has been complicated because the life cycle of the microscopic parasite that causes malaria is extremely complex and the proteins on the parasite's surface that it uses to invade human cells are diverse and difficult to target.

The parasite has also shown growing resistance throughout Southeast Asia to the core compound in drug treatments recommended by WHO.