Over the last five years, we've seen that scaling up existing malaria control interventions--bed-nets and anti-malarial treatments--leads to dramatic reduction in the burden of the disease in some countries and eradicating it completely in others, and with our malaria vaccine candidate in late stage development there is much to be optimistic about. So it is timely that World Malaria Day happens smack in the middle of World Immunization Week!
For most of us who were born in the US, there is no first-hand knowledge of malaria, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't care about it. It used to be a problem, especially in warmer parts of the Lower 48. Thankfully, a well-coordinated effort eliminated it in the US in 1951.
Because despite recent successes, half the world's population remains at risk of malaria and it still kills almost 655,000 people every year--mostly young children in sub-Saharan Africa. One of our researchers recounted a trip where he saw "children's lives hanging by a thread, mothers waiting anxiously for news of their child's survival, communities suffering from the loss of another life, over-burdened hospitals and over-worked doctors making tough decisions, not about how to treat but who to save."
We won't tackle malaria by adopting a business-as-usual approach. This is why our program is not only about ensuring access to existing interventions, it's about continuing to invest in innovation and science to ensure we are playing our part in supporting the theme of this year's World Malaria Day: Sustain Gains, Save Lives, Invest in Malaria.
GSK and the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (MVI), together with prominent African research centers, have partnered to develop a malaria vaccine candidate, known as RTS,S. RTS,S which is currently in a Phase III trial, is the world's most clinically advanced malaria vaccine candidate. If licensed and approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) it will be used exclusively for children in sub-Saharan Africa who suffer the greatest burden of disease. A vaccine, if approved, would be an important component of a comprehensive malaria control program which already includes bed nets and anti-malaria medicines.
We're committed to making this vaccine candidate available to those who need it most. The eventual price of RTS,S will cover the cost of manufacturing the vaccine together with a small return of around 5% that will be reinvested in R&D for second-generation malaria vaccines or vaccines against other neglected tropical diseases.
We're also working in partnership with other organizations to increase the availability and uptake of preventative measures and improve management of malaria, particularly for young children and pregnant women. This includes providing our anti-malarial medicines at deeply discounted prices in LDCs and sub-Saharan Africa to ensure access for as many people as possible.
In communities in Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya, we're working with partners and with national malaria control programs to help build capacity of community health workers and mobilize families to become the frontline in the fight against malaria.
Up next...polio, a great example of a successful combination of public health policy and sound science.