World health officials are tentatively celebrating a medical breakthrough that could one day see malaria – which is the leading cause of death throughout human history and currently threatens half the world’s population across over 100 countries – vanish from the globe.
The World Health Organization announced on Monday that Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi have been selected for the 2018 pilot program, which will see an injectable vaccine be administered to hundreds of thousands of young children, the demographic most at risk of succumbing to the disease.
Although the injection does not stop the disease outright, it is projected to save tens of thousands of lives if used a supplement to other existing measures, said WHO Africa director Dr. Matshidiso Moeti in a statement.
While the vaccine has held up to rigorous clinical trials, researchers are hopeful that its effects persist when given to children between the ages of five and 17 months who are subject to real-life scenarios. By the end of the program, nearly roughly 360,000 children across the three countries will ideally be immunized.
According to the WHO, Kenya, Ghana and Malawi were selected because of their high number of malaria cases in comparison to their relatively robust prevention and vaccination programs. If all goes to plan, the WHO projects that malaria could go the way of smallpox by 2040 and be wiped off the face of the earth.
Over 200 million people across the world are infected with malaria each year. While most cases involve African children, there are also cases reported in Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. Of those, about half a million victims succumb to the disease, which is spread by mosquitos that bite an infected person and then transfers the parasites to another person.