Agogo — SCIENTISTS AT the School of Medical Sciences (SMS), College of Health Sciences and the Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research (KCCR) in Tropical Medicine, all at KNUST, in partnership with others have begun a field trial of a malaria vaccine candidate at two sites in Ghana - Agogo and Kintampo.
This is to test and assess the immunological impact and safety of the vaccine known as RTS,S in young children between the ages of 5 -17 months.
The RTS,S vaccine, which has been in active development since 1987, was undertaken by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) Biologicals in close collaboration with the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR).
Speaking at the launching of the project in Agogo in the Asante-Akyem District of the Ashanti Region, the Deputy Minister of Health, Dr. (Mrs.) Gladys Norley Ashitey, stated that malaria had been the leading cause of attendance at the Out Patient Department (OPD) in the country's health facilities.
According to the Health Minister, everyday, approximately 3,000 children die of malaria, which she indicated represents 20% of causes of death in children throughout Africa.
And in Ghana, Dr. Ashitey said malaria kills about 3,500 people annually, describing the number as alarming, "since malaria is not at all an incurable and necessarily deadly disease."
She explained that malaria was and is still a parasitical disease against which man can protect himself and of which one species is responsible for the deadly forms it can take.
The Minister continued that besides, the Millennium Development Goals invite Ghanaians to "combat malaria" and turn the actual trend of its propagation by 2015 because the consequences of the disease on development or rather on under-development remains particularly alarming.
She praised the Ghanaian Scientists' efforts at finding a vaccine against malaria disease in the country, through a collaborative striving of their counterparts elsewhere on the globe.
"The Ministry's approval for this study amply demonstrates the government's commitment to science and technology as a catalyst for accelerated development in the country," the Deputy Health Minister noted as she launched the project.
In January 2001,GSK Biologicals and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI) entered into an agreement to develop the vaccine for infants and young children living in sub-Saharan Africa where malaria appears to be endemic.
Prof. Tsiri Agbenyega of the KNUST School of Medical Sciences and one of the Principal Investigators for RTS,S vaccine project in the country said the Ghanaian trial forms part of a rigorous process aimed at validating the efficacy and safety of the vaccine.
He told the gathering about the long-term need for the vaccine to combat malaria in Ghana.
According to him, for far too long, malaria has been viewed as a part of every day life in Ghana and Africa as a whole - killing more than a million people yearly.
Prof. Agbenyega noted that malaria inflicts tremendous suffering with consequential huge economic and social disruption, indicating, "The time for complacency is past."
He emphasized that immunization was the best way to control infectious diseases and so it follows that an effective malaria vaccine could represent a "huge step forward in combating this terrible affliction."
"The studies we are conducting in Agogo and Kintampo by KCCR/SMS and Kintampo Health Research Centre KHRC) respectively are a critical step in making malaria vaccine a reality for the people of Ghana and sub-Saharan Africa," Dr. Jennifer Evans of KCCR told journalists at a workshop prior to the launch of the project.
According to her, they will be examining different formulations and schedules for vaccination to see how these factors may influence outcomes.
Dr. Evans however charged the public to be patient because the vaccine will still take some years of further investigation before it could be ready for widespread use.
"If all goes on well, the vaccine could be submitted to regulatory authorities as early as 2010.
Thereafter, it would need to be recommended by policy-makers, and finally plans must be made to implement the vaccine and its widespread use," she forecasted.