9 January 2007

Africa: Malaria - Vaccine Expected in 2011

Dr. Seth Owusu Agyei, Director of Kintampo Health Research Centre (KHRC) in the Brong Ahafo Region has stated that he is very hopeful that by the year 2011, the centre would have come out with a malaria vaccine RTS,S, which is currently going through clinical trials, for use in Ghana and across Africa to control malaria.

He stated this during an interaction with journalists drawn from the African Media and Malaria Research Network, to acquaint themselves with the trials in the region.

Ghana, Kenya, Gambia, Mozambique, Tanzania and Senegal are the six African countries currently taking part in the phase two trials of the vaccine.

He said that Kintampo Health Research Centre and the Kumasi Center for Collaborative Research at Agogo in the Ashanti Region, were conducting the trials on 540 children aged between five and 17 months, and it would last for 20 months.

"The 270 children currently taken parts in the trial were selected from Kintampo North and South, Nkoransa, Tain, Wenchi and Techiman districts."

Dr. Seth Owusu Agyei, stated that "Malaria is very high in the district".

He explained, on the average, children in the district between the ages of 6 months to five years get six to seven malaria attacks in a year.

Again on the average, an individual gets about 270 affective bites from mosquitoes.

He said it's a good policy that chroloquine has been changed to artesunate -amodiaquine.

However, he said the new drug is not really getting to the people in the communities of the districts and the use bed net was very low until recently when the bed net were given free of charge.

He said malaria causes about twenty thousand deaths worldwide; and hopefully with the introduction of the malaria vaccine ten thousand deaths could be prevented.

Dr Owusu-Agyei stressed that, if the trials prove successful after further scientific research, it was expected that by 2011, the RTS,S would be available for use in Ghana and across Africa.

He said the challenge, however, was how to make the vaccine available for use at a lower cost since millions of dollars were being spent on the trials by various collaborators including the drug company, GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals in Belgium, which developed the vaccine.

Dr Owusu-Agyei said the trials were being conducted under the Malaria Clinical Trials Alliance (MCTA), an African-led institution set up to conduct research into malaria.

Dr Owusu-Agyei said by 2010, trials would be expanded to cover more children to enable research scientists gather enough information required for licensing by regulatory bodies for the use of the vaccine.

The research, which began in September, last year, in Ghana, was aimed at primarily assessing the safety of the vaccine.

It is expected that more children would be tested in the phase three trial, during the efficacy test of the vaccine in 2008, if the phase two trial becomes successful.

MCTA, funded with 17-million dollar grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is made up of scientists within and outside Africa.

A version of RTS,S vaccine was tested on 100 adult volunteers in the United States and 85 adults in Kenya and found to be safe.

It has already been administered to about 2000 children aged one to four years in Mozambique, and the results indicated that 18 months after the children were vaccinated; the risk of getting malaria was lowered by one third, and the risk of severe malaria reduced by about half.

Results also showed that the protective effect of the malaria vaccine did not wane 24 months after the vaccine was administered.

The RTS,S vaccine was created in 1987 and developed by GlaxoSmithKline, (GSK) Biologicals, vaccine manufacturers in Belgium.

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