Malaria is an acute febrile illness that can cause death. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes, known as "vectors" of malaria, and the first symptoms usually appear between ten and fifteen days after the bite.

Malaria is the most important parasitic disease in the world and one of the main causes of child mortality. After decades of progress in reducing infections and deaths - up to a 45% decrease in mortality between 2005 and 2019 - this is an especially significant moment in the fight against the disease thanks to a new vaccine that will be available at mid-2024.

The R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine has confirmed "high" efficacy (78% on average) and "a good" safety profile in children aged 5 to 17 months during the first year, according to data from a new clinical trial in phase III - which means it is in its last step before the drug authorization process - carried out in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali and Tanzania.

This vaccine was designed in 2011 as a potential improvement on the RTS, S/AS01 designed in the 1980s and funded by Bill Gates, with limited proven efficacy but easy to apply and store. With both vaccines, it will be possible to contribute to protecting a large part of African children living in areas at risk of malaria from the disease in a context of high global demand for these vaccines.

The development of the R21/Matrix-M vaccine is the result of years of collaborative research between scientists at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom and the Serum Institute of India, one of the world's largest vaccine manufacturers.

Unfortunately, malaria remains a leading cause of illness and death in many regions of the world, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, where children under five are the most vulnerable.

The latest world malaria report 2023 provides the following data:

  • It is estimated that in 2022 there were about 249 million cases and more than 600,000 deaths from malaria. 94% of cases occur in Africa (half of all in Nigeria, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda and Mozambique).
  • Malaria prevention rests on three pillars: chemoprophylaxis, vector control and vaccines.
  • Climate change, which brings with it more rain, has become one of the main threats that distances the objective of controlling the disease.
  • Experts are concerned about the emergence of resistance to artemisinin, the basic compound of combination treatments recommended by the WHO.
  • In recent years, antimalarial drugs, medicines that stop infection and prevent disease, have gained importance.
  • Insecticide-treated mosquito nets are a method that has managed to prevent 68% of cases since the 90s.

If the R21/Matrix-M vaccine is successfully deployed on a large scale, it could have a transformative impact on global public health and contribute significantly to efforts to achieve the World Health Organization's goal of reducing malaria deaths by 90% by 2030. This breakthrough represents a significant step toward the control and eventual eradication of a disease that has plagued humanity for centuries.

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