Every minute, a child dies from malaria. According to the World Health Organization, 3.4 billion people, nearly half of the Earth’s entire population, are at risk for the disease.
Though malaria rates have dropped by 42% since 2000, the disease is still expected to kill anywhere from 600,000 to 800,000 people this year, with the majority of them being children under the age of five. In fact, malaria is the third largest killer of children worldwide.
And while improving medical technologies and practices have been steadily reducing the number of malaria-related deaths, there is no proven vaccine against the disease.
But a promising new vaccine created by pharmaceutical manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) may be about to change that.
The vaccine can’t prevent every single case of malaria, but it has proven to have a very significant impact. During multiple trials of the vaccine, researchers found that on average about 800 cases of malaria could be prevented for every 1,000 children who got the vaccine.
In the most advanced of these trials, 1,500 children in several different African countries received the vaccine. 18 months later, researchers found that the vaccine had nearly halved the number of malaria infections in small children.
The testing also suggests that the vaccine’s impact becomes even more pronounced in areas that have particularly high infection rates.
For example, in a number of Kenyan cities, the researchers were able to prevent about 2,000 cases of malaria with only 1,000 vaccines (many people in the area contract the disease multiple times).
GSK has now applied for regulatory approval of the vaccine from the European Medicine’s Authority. This is the first malaria vaccine to ever reach that step.
Sanjeev Krishna is a professor of Molecular Parasitology and Medicine at St. George’s University of London. He was one of the scientists who peer-reviewed the study before it was published in the journal PLOS Medicine. He had his to say:
“This is a milestone. The landscape of malaria vaccine development is littered with carcasses, with vaccines dying left, right and centre…
We need to keep a watchful eye for adverse events but everything appears on track for the vaccine to be approved as early as next year.”
Read more from the BBC here.
If you want to learn more about malaria, these 10 quick facts about the disease from the World Health Organization is a good place to start.