Malaria is a deadly, mosquito-borne virus that is responsible for the deaths of 500,000 children under the age of five years across Africa every year. In 2019, the delivery of the RTS,S vaccine that acts against Plasmodium falciparum, the parasite responsible for malaria infections, was launched in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi as part of a pilot study by the Malaria Vaccination Implementation Programme (MVIP). RTS,S is a pre-erythrocytic vaccine that prevents the P. falciparum parasites from infecting liver cells. The MVIP, coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO), put a detailed framework in place to ensure that children under the age of five years in high-risk populations were the first to be targeted. Since 2019, 1.7 million children have received the RTS,S vaccine across Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi, and it has been deemed safe and effective for widespread use.
As of July 2023, the WHO decided to expand the MVIP to other African countries that have a high malaria burden, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Liberia, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Uganda. As with many new vaccines, the supply of the malaria vaccine is limited while production attempts to keep up with demand. The WHO estimate that 40–60 million doses of the RTS,S vaccine will be needed across the countries included in the MVIP by 2026, and that this will grow by 80–100 million doses each year by 2030. Over the next few years, the supply of the RTS,S malaria vaccine will be insufficient to meet the needs of over 25 million children born each year in areas where the vaccine is recommended, according to a WHO-commissioned global market study. Since the success of the pilot study, several other countries have expressed interest in launching the MVIP program to reduce the burden of malaria on their population.
Initially, GlobalData epidemiologists forecast that there would be 8,355,000 confirmed incident cases of malaria among children under the age of five years in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2023, and this number was expected to increase to 9,045,000 confirmed incident cases by 2027. GlobalData also forecast that there would be 2,448,000 confirmed incident cases of malaria in children under the age of five years in Ghana in 2023, which was expected to increase to 2,660,000 by 2027. However, if the launch of the RTS,S vaccine can keep up with demand, GlobalData epidemiologists anticipate that the rate at which the number of incident cases rises will slow and could eventually significantly decrease. While the supply of the vaccine is low, the program targets the areas that are at the highest risk in order to have the greatest impact on incidence. Additionally, disease surveillance mechanisms have been put in place to ensure that the correct populations are being targeted. The WHO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and partners are working to increase the RTS,S supply by exploring approaches to increase manufacturing capacity, market-shaping, and facilitating the development of other first-generation and next-generation malaria vaccines, which should accelerate the decrease in confirmed incident cases and reduce the overall burden of malaria across Africa.