Ghana, Kenya and Malawi will pilot the world's first malaria vaccine from 2018, offering it for babies and children in high-risk areas as part of real-life trials, the World Health Organization said on Monday.
British drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline developed the injectable vaccine, called RTS,S or Mosquirix, to protect children from the most deadly form of malaria in Africa.
In clinical trials it proved only partially effective, and it needs to be given in a four-dose schedule. But it is the first regulator-approved vaccine against the mosquito-borne disease.
WHO waiting for live trial results
The WHO is in the process of assessing whether to add the shot to its core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention. It says it first wants to see the results of on-the-ground testing in a pilot programme.
"Information gathered in the pilot will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine," Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO's African regional director, said in a statement as the three pilot countries were announced.
"Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa."
Malaria kills around 430,000 people a year, the vast majority of them babies and young children in sub-Saharan Africa. Global efforts in the last 15 years cut the malaria death toll by 62 percent between 2000 and 2015.
The WHO said Malawi, Kenya and Ghana were chosen for the pilot due to several factors, including having high rates of malaria as well as good malaria programmes, wide use of bed-nets, and well-functioning immunisation programmes.
Each of the three countries will decide on the districts and regions to be included in the pilots, the WHO said, with high malaria areas getting priority since these are where experts expect to see most benefit from the use of the vaccine.
GSK developed RTS,S in partnership with the non-profit PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation partially funded the project.