Vaccine test aims to help Africa beat the curse of malaria By Mawusi Afele

dpa German Press Agency
Published: Tuesday January 9, 2007

By Mawusi Afele, Accra- In Ghana's Brong Ahafo region an important trial is taking place that aims to help Africa win one of toughest battles - that against malaria, its topmost killer. The West African state is one of six African countries - Gabon, Mozambique, Kenya, Senegal and Tanzania are the others - taking part in trials of a malaria vaccine.

This is the result of a 17 million-dollar grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to fund the Malaria Clinical Trials Alliance (MCTA).

At the Kintampo Health Research Centre, trials have been going on since September to assess the safety of the vaccine developed by GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals.

Winning the war against malaria, caused by the plasmodium parasite transmitted through the bite of an infective female anopheles mosquito, is very important to Africa and the tropics.

The tiny mosquitoes, which have a lifespan of 72 hours, breed mainly in stagnant water.

Malaria affects between 300 and 350 million people - with around one million deaths a year in Africa. Economic loss because of malaria in the world is estimated at 12 billion dollars annually.

In Ghana, about 22 per cent of deaths in children under five, and about 44 per cent of all out-patient department attendances in hospitals, are caused by malaria.

The health ministry points out that the total cost of treating malaria by the individual, household, employers and government is about one-third of the health budget.

So although malaria is a preventable disease, it still accounts for one of the major contributions to poverty plaguing Africa, thereby slowing progress in development.

Dr Seth Owusu-Agyei, Director of the Kintampo Health Research Centre, says this and the Kumasi Center For Collaborative Research at Agogo in the Ashanti Region, are conducting the trials, lasting 20 months, on 540 children aged between five and 17 months.

The target is to introduce the malaria vaccine by 2011, says Owusu-Agyei.

By 2010, trials would be expanded to cover more children and enable research scientists to gather enough information required for licensing by regulatory bodies for the use of the vaccine.

It is expected that more children would be tested in the next phase, when the efficacy of the vaccine would be tested by 2008, if current phase is successful.

The refreshing news is that a version of the vaccine tested on 100 adult volunteers in the United States and 85 adults in Kenya has been found to be safe.

It has already been administered on about 2,000 children aged one to four years in Mozambique. Its results showed that 18 months after the children were vaccinated, the risk of getting malaria was reduced by one third, and the risk of severe malaria by about one half.

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

The need for a vaccine has become more important as the use of the age-long potent but cheap drug, chloroquine, as the first line of treatment of uncomplicated malaria is being looked at again because the disease is becoming resistant to the drug. Treatment failure of chloroquine now us estimated at as high as some 25 per cent.

© 2006 dpa German Press Agency