April 29, 2019

Research Roundup: World's first malaria vaccine, how to shape research to advance global health, and lotion that protects from malaria

Ansley Kahn
Senior Program Assistant
PATH/Doune Porter

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On April 23, the world’s first approved malaria vaccine was rolled out in Malawi, with rollouts in Ghana and Kenya to follow shortly. This four-dose vaccine, called RTS,S, is designed specifically for children. Malaria is a top killer of children worldwide, particularly affecting those in sub-Saharan Africa. The vaccine took more than 30 years and more than US$500 million to develop. Its development was an international collaboration among the World Health Organization, PATH, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, GlaxoSmithKline, and a network of African countries. In a large trial, the vaccine reduced the number of clinical malaria cases by about 40 percent and severe malaria cases by about 30 percent. The rollout of the vaccine in Malawi, Ghana, and Kenya will put the clinical trial results to the test in a real-world application.

In this editorial piece, Dr. Soumya Swaminathan explains the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recent establishment of a new science division under her leadership. The division “brings together existing research groups focused on reproductive health, infectious diseases and health-care systems,” and aims to strengthen “WHO’s capacity to promote and establish guidelines on public health, preventive care, clinical medicine, and ethical research, and ensure that emerging technologies improve safety and well-being." By leveraging WHO’s two key advantages of credibility and convening power, the division will help spur innovation in areas often neglected by private industry and academia and help establish guidelines and fill knowledge gaps to improve health interventions and systems. Ultimately, through this new division, WHO aims to create greater coordination of the organization’s science activities.

A mosquito-repellent body lotion that provides six hours of complete protection against the Anopheles gambiae mosquito that spreads malaria could help fill a critical gap in malaria prevention, according to its creator. The lotion, Maïa, is a combination of shea butter and DEET insect repellent and was developed by Gérard Niyondiko, an engineer from Burkina Faso—one of 30 finalists of the World Health Organization (WHO) Innovation Challenge. According to Mr. Niyondiko, many people in Africa spend a lot of time outside in the evening before they go to sleep and are therefore exposed to malaria-carrying mosquitoes. Since women typically wash their children and themselves in the early evening and put an ointment on their skin afterwards, Mr. Niyondiko sees Maïa as a complementary tool in the fight against malaria that taps into existing human behavior in much of Africa. Field studies testing Maïa are planned in Burkina Faso and Tanzania with the aim of gaining WHO accreditation as a vector control tool. Maïa is already being sold by women’s microfinancing groups ahead of the coming rainy season in Burkina Faso.