With malaria deaths rebounding worldwide, a pilot program testing a new and fiercely debated malaria vaccine began on Tuesday in Malawi.
Dr. Katherine O’Brien, the World Health Organization’s director of immunization, called the rollout “a historic moment in the fight against malaria,” and said the testing will soon expand to malarious regions of Ghana and Kenya.
But the vaccine, known as RTS,S, or Mosquirix, has been in development by GSK, the former GlaxoSmithKline, for more than 30 years, and it has serious drawbacks that have led some experts to argue that it does not work well enough to spend millions of dollars pursuing.
Malaria kills about 450,000 people a year, most of them young African children. Over the last 15 years, the death rate has been reduced by more than half through extensive, donor-funded efforts to hand out free mosquito nets, spray homes with insecticide and treat people with a new generation of medicines.