More than 300 malaria vaccine experts from all over the world convened Tuesday—World Malaria Day—at a symposium in Baltimore sponsored by the Johns Hopkins Malaria Research Institute.
The gathering took place a day after blockbuster news broke on the malaria vaccine front. WHO announced on Monday that the world’s first malaria vaccine will be field-tested in pilot programs in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi in 2018.
WHO’s approval of pilots for the RTS,S vaccine (the first malaria vaccine to have successfully completed a Phase III clinical trial though it is only partially effective) is a milestone in the long and hard-fought search for a malaria vaccine.
Although the parasite annually kills an estimated 429,000 people and infects 212 million, global efforts against malaria have gained considerable momentum in recent years. Mortality rates have fallen by nearly 30% from 2010 to 2015 and incidence fell by 21% during the same period, according to WHO’s 2016 malaria report.
Infectious disease expert Ripley Ballou, who has had a leading role in the 30-year-plus development of the RTS,S vaccine, told the audience at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health that the vaccine has the potential to have a “major public health impact.” When paired with other malaria control measures, it could save tens of thousands of lives in Africa, WHO announced.