A malaria vaccine which is being trialled in Ghana has almost halved the number of cases and could be on the streets of Africa within a year.
Developed by British pharmaceutical multinational GlaxoSmithKline, the company has deployed the world's first malaria vaccine in Ghana and after 18 months, the results show a 46% reduction in cases.
Malaria is a preventable and curable disease that kills one child every minute. Though substantial medical progress has been made over the past decade, in 2012 it claimed the lives of an estimated 627,000 people, the overwhelming majority of whom were African children.
Field trials of the new vaccine in Agogo in Ghana suggest that 18 months after vaccinations, children aged between 17 months and five-years-old had a 46% reduction in cases of the disease compared to unvaccinated children.
Some 15,000 people took part in the trial across seven countries: Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Gabon, Burkina Faso, Malawi and Mozambique.
The trial is one of the biggest ever undertaken in decades of research and development - and the results show that the vaccine could save millions of lives each year.
Malaria is caused by four species of parasites that infect humans through mosquitoes. Approximately half of the world's population is at risk of malaria, but the majority of deaths occur in Africa.
- Young children
- Non-immune pregnant women
- Semi-immune pregnant women
- Semi-immune HIV infected pregnant women
- People with HIV/AIDS
- International travellers
- Immigrants from areas with high infection living in areas with low infection who return to visit the home country
The first symptoms of malaria can often be mild and hard to recognise, but if not treated within 24 hours, some forms of the disease can lead to death. Children with severe malaria often become very ill, very quickly, suffering from respiratory distress and metabolic acidosis - when the body produces too much acid and the kidneys cannot remove enough acid from the body.
In areas where Malaria is most common, immunity can be built and the risk of infection reduced through years of exposure. This is why young children are most vulnerable - as they have yet to build immunity.
The disease has been successfully eliminated from four countries - the United Arab Emirates, Morocco, Turkmenistan and Armenia.
The World Health Organisation says £5 billion is needed to tackle the problem each year, but less than half of that is currently being spent, and the countries most afflicted now often have the least money available to spent. Currently, the first line of defence against Malaria for millions remains the humble mosquito net.
As well as being the world's biggest killer of children, the disease is also a major cause and contributor to poverty and lost productivity.
In Ghana alone, it consumes a third of household income, according to NGO Malaria No More.
The World Health Organisation says it costs Africa more than £8 billion each year in lost productivity, as poor health facilities and infrastructure often mean families nurse their loved ones in hospital.
At the Ghanaian site of the trial, the Agogo Presbyterian Hospital, Science and Medical Editor Lawrence McGinty met some of the families taking part in the trial, many of who said the vaccine had saved their children's life.
GSK said it is planning to release the drug to market at the reduced price of $5 per vaccine. This cost would be still be prohibitively expensive for millions across the Sub-Saharan region, but cheaper than is currently available and a major breakthrough in the fight against this costly, deadly disease.