April 30, 2014, 10:47 a.m.
Around the world, about 3.4 billion people are at risk of catching malaria. The infectious disease, caused by a parasite spread by mosquitoes, can lead to severe infection and death if not treated quickly. Malaria kills about 627,000 people each year, mostly in the world's poorest countries.
Malaria control efforts have taken many forms. Notably, bed nets andchemical spraying to ward off infected mosquitoes, and mass distribution of antimalarial drugs to reduce transmission. But with parasite species becoming resistant to the drugs and insecticides used to treat them, members of the global health community are putting more hope in vaccines as a promising new tool in the fight to control and eventually eradicate the disease.
In building immunity to diseases as a preventative measure, vaccinescan make for cost-effective public health interventions. After decades of intense research aimed at finding a vaccine for the complex malaria parasite, the most advanced vaccine candidate, RTS,S, is now close to being licensed.
Progress indeed, but this development has its own risks. Based on the data it has seen, the World Health Organisation has said that the vaccineshould not be seen as a replacement for existing preventative, diagnostic and treatment measures.
So, if and when malaria vaccines are licensed, how should they be made available to those most at risk of the disease? What role should endemic country governments play in deciding how they are distributed, and based on what? Is there a danger that vaccines will divert vital resources away from other important control efforts, and if so, how can this be prevented?