World’s first malaria vaccine given go-ahead for mass immunisation of African children

By Jason Goodyer*

Currently Malaria is the largest cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa, killing more than 260,000 under-fives every year. For context that means one child dies of malaria every two minutes.

Malaria is caused by the Plasmodium parasite, which is spread by female Anopheles mosquitoes. They are commonly known as “night-biting” mosquitoes as they typically bite between dusk and dawn.

Once the parasite enters the host’s bloodstream it travels to the liver, where it develops for a short period before re-entering the bloodstream and attacking the red blood cells.

In a non-immune individual, symptoms usually appear 10 to 15 days after the bite and include fever, headache, chills and diarrhoea. If not treated within 24 hours, the disease can progress to severe illness and often leads to death.

Developing an effective vaccine has proved to be a serious challenge as the parasite is far more complex than a virus or bacteria.

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