Fighting Malaria in Africa: WTO to roll out malaria vaccine despite Lack of Funding
As the World Health Organization (WTO) announces the next step in its distribution of the world’s first authorized malaria vaccine in three African countries, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, arguably the vaccine’s biggest backer, has raised concerns about its value.
WHO endorsed the vaccine, sold by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) as Mosquirix, in fall 2021 as a “historic” breakthrough in the fight against malaria. But this week, the Gates Foundation told the media it will no longer financially support the shot, prompting some scientists to warn it could leave millions of African children at risk of dying from malaria as well as undermine future efforts to solve intractable problems in public health.
Reportedly being about 30% effective and requiring four doses, the malaria vaccine has “a much lower efficacy than we would like,” Philip Welkhoff, the Gates Foundation’s director of malaria programs, told the press.
The Gates Foundation’s decision to pivot away from supporting the rollout of the vaccine in Africa was made years ago after detailed deliberations, including whether the foundation’s money would be better spent on other malaria vaccines, treatments or production capacity, Welkhoff said.
This comes at a time when the world is struggling to contain the spike in malaria seen since the coronavirus pandemic disrupted efforts to stop the parasitic disease, which killed more than 620,000 people in 2020 and caused 241 million cases, mainly in children under five in Africa.
Meanwhile, BioNTech, creator of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine, said it plans to apply the messenger RNA technology it used for the coronavirus to malaria, but that project is in its infancy.