The World Health Organisation has approved the RTS,S/AS01 vaccine, or Mosquirix, developed by pharmaceutical firm GlaxoSmithKline and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, for broad use among children. This is a breakthrough in combating malaria, an ancient scourge of humankind, spread through mosquitoes. The disease kills nearly 3,00,000 children younger than five years annually, accounting for 67% of malaria deaths. The vaccine marks a critical moment for tropical countries in their public health efforts.
India is part of this landmark moment as Bharat Biotech will be manufacturing the vaccine. The WHO recommendation is four doses of the vaccine in children from five months old – a dosage based on pilots in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, involving vaccinating more than 800,000 children since 2019. The bulk of the malaria deaths are in Africa. A good move would be for India/Bharat Biotech to set up production units in Africa. This would make distribution and access to vaccines easier and more predictable, and build diplomatic capital, giving credence to India’s commitment to cooperation and collaboration with countries of the global south. It will establish India’s credentials as a global leader working in partnership with other countries. The strategic, diplomatic, commercial and human aspects apart, the malaria vaccine should encourage Indian research organisations and pharma and biotechnology companies to focus on developing preventives and therapies to diseases that have been scourge of the poor communities in tropical regions.
Reducing the number of doses required is a challenge, especially given the difficulty in ensuring people complete the full course of vaccination.