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Important and promising results in the fight against malaria were announced at this week’s Malaria Forum convened by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an event reviewing global progress in the fight against malaria. The forum brought together foundation leaders and their global partners to discuss issues critical to the malaria community and provided a venue for releasing new data both on current interventions—such as bednets and anti-malarial drugs—and new technologies, such as malaria vaccines.

PATH’s president Christopher J. Elias, MD, MPH, the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative director Christian Loucq, MD, the PATH Malaria Control and Evaluation Partnership in Africa (MACEPA) director Kent Campbell, MD, MPH, and other key staff addressed forum participants. Together with William H. Gates, Sr., co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PATH board member and head of the Roll Back Malaria Partnership Dr. Awa-Marie Coll-Seck also addressed guests at an evening reception.

Study published in The Lancet confirms promise of malaria vaccine candidate

The medical journal The Lancet published the results of a landmark study of GlaxoSmithKline’s investigational RTS,S/AS02 malaria vaccine in African infants. The PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative, which is a key partner in the clinical development of RTS,S, provided funding for the trial. This Phase II trial was conducted by the Manhiça Health Research Centre in Mozambique by scientists from the Hospital Clinic of the University of Barcelona and the Mozambique Ministry of Health. Read the press release.

This is the first study of any malaria vaccine candidate to establish proof-of-concept that young infants exposed to intense P. falciparum transmission can be protected from infection and clinical disease. The study reports that vaccine efficacy against new infections was 65 percent over a three-month follow-up period after the infants received all three doses of the vaccine. The results also showed that the vaccine reduced episodes of clinical malaria by 35 percent over a six-month follow-up period starting after the first dose.

These important findings substantially advance the vision that a vaccine will be capable of protecting young African children and infants and thereby contribute to reducing the heavy burden of disease and death caused by malaria. A Phase III trial is currently slated to begin in the second half of 2008. A successful Phase III trial could result in submitting the vaccine to regulatory authorities in 2011.

Zambia announces progress in their approach to fighting malaria

With the support of its partners at the forum—including PATH—the Zambian Ministry of Health shared new data demonstrating the country’s impressive gains in protecting its people from malaria infection. Zambian Minister of Health Dr. Brian Chituwo announced the National Malaria Control Program in his country will distribute more than 3.4 million insecticide-treated mosquito bednets (ITNs) this year. The distribution effort brings the country close to its national target of reaching 80 percent of households with treated bednets. Read a fact sheet on this effort (151 KB PDF).

Data from Zambia’s 2006 malaria indicator survey revealed households with ITNs had 51 percent fewer malaria infections and 56 percent fewer cases of severe anemia than household without ITNs or indoor insecticide spraying. In addition, Zambia now has one of the highest rates in the region of pregnant women accessing preventive medicines through antenatal clinics.

Since 2005, MACEPA has partnered with the Zambian government to provide technical and other support to its malaria control scale-up efforts. MACEPA is also working with ministry officials and forum attendees from Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Tanzania to further define how to work and learn together through the new MACEPA Learning Community. The goal of the MACEPA Learning Community is to demonstrate—through partnership with African countries—that scaling up malaria prevention and control saves lives, reduces illness, and decreases the economic burden of the disease. MACEPA and the Learning Community are both funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

UNICEF releases promising report on malaria and children

Also at the forum, UNICEF and the global Roll Back Malaria Partnership will release findings from its new report, Malaria and Children, showing significant progress across sub-Saharan Africa in scaling up coverage of malaria interventions, particularly ITNs. Although current coverage levels fall short of global malaria goals, the report revealed that 20 sub-Saharan countries with available data have made progress in expanding ITN use among children under age five; 16 of these countries have tripled coverage rates since 2000.

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To read dispatches from the Malaria Forum, visit the Malaria No More blog on the ONE Campaign website.

Kaisernetwork.org, a free service of the Kaiser Family Foundation, will offer archived webcasts from the Malaria Forum.

Posted October 16, 2007.