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African Union to start talks with WHO on malaria vaccine rollout on continent

Amid calls for funding for drugs beyond Covid-19.
Image: REUTERS/James Gathany/CDC/Handout via Reuters

Africa will start talks with the World Health Organisation about getting the first approved malaria vaccine to the continent as soon as possible, the African Union’s top health official said on Thursday, amid calls for funding for drugs beyond Covid-19.

John Nkengasong spoke a day after the WHO said RTS,S – or Mosquirix – developed by British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline should be widely given to children in Africa. Experts said the recommendation was potentially a major advance against a disease that kills a quarter of a million African children each year.

“We will be engaging with GAVI (the vaccine alliance) and WHO in the coming days to understand first of all the availability of this vaccine,” Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), told an online news conference.

He urged donors not to play a zero-sum game “where we fund Covid vaccines and neglect malaria vaccines”.

He said it was unclear when the vaccine will be accessible to the many African countries where malaria is endemic because the cost per dose is not known and it is not clear how quickly production can be scaled up.

GSK has to date committed to produce 15 million doses of Mosquirix annually up to 2028 at a cost of production plus no more than 5% margin.

A global market study led by the WHO this year projected demand for a malaria vaccine would be 50 to 110 million doses per year by 2030 if it is deployed in areas with moderate to high transmission of the disease.

Nkengasong said the WHO’s decision to recommend wide use of the malaria vaccine should be celebrated, calling malaria a major killer in Africa. He noted that by the end of 2021, malaria will likely have killed many more people in Africa, especially children, than Covid-19 has this year on the continent.

Mosquirix has been is 30 years in the making.

A WHO-coordinated pilot programme in three African countries has already administered 2.3 million doses of the vaccine since 2019.

GAVI will consider in December whether and how to finance the vaccination programme.

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