Kenyan researchers to use drugs and vaccine to end malaria menace



Kenyan researchers said on Saturday that they plan to use a combination of new drugs as well as a vaccine in order to end the malaria menace in the country.

Lucas Otieno, deputy director of Clinical Operations at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), told Xinhua in Nairobi that the illness is caused by a parasite, hence even those who are vaccinated can still get infected in the future.

"As a result, it will take a combination of both vaccines and powerful anti-malaria drugs in order to eliminate malaria in the country," Otieno said.

"These two interventions will complement each other because there is no magic bullet against malaria," he added.

He revealed that the malaria vaccine will be the first vaccine against a parasite and so it will be difficult to achieve 100 percent efficacy.

State-owned KEMRI is currently involved in the clinical research for the development of a new anti-malaria vaccine and drug together with drug manufacturers.

Otieno, who is also the principal investigator of the new malaria vaccine, said phase three of the malaria vaccine studies have been completed.

"The research shows that after the vaccine is administered it will have an efficacy of only 55 percent against malaria infections in the first year and 40 percent after five years," he added.

In 2015, the study data was presented to the World Health Organization (WHO), which made a recommendation for the vaccine to undergo pilot implementation.

Otieno noted that the vaccine will be rolled out on a pilot basis in Kenya, Malawi and Uganda for a period of about five years in order for more data to be gathered on the efficacy of the medication.

The research data will then be presented to the WHO which will make the final decision on whether the drug will be released into the market.

According to KEMRI, the vaccine will be given to children who are between the ages of five to 17 months in four dosages at immunization clinics.

The first three jabs will be administered one month apart whilst the fourth jab will be given about 15 months later.

According to scientists, the vaccine attacks the parasite during the liver stage of the disease while the anti-malaria drugs work during the blood stage of the disease.

KEMRI is also currently working on a new anti-malaria drug dubbed KAF 156, which will replace existing anti-malaria medications.

The drug research will initially focus on older age groups, and once proven to be effective and safe, scientists will develop drugs for children.

Otieno said the development of this new drug is important because they have reported cases of resistance against the current drug regime for malaria.

He noted that it is important for countries to stay ahead of the parasite, if the global community is to eliminate the illness.

"There has been a decrease in sensitivity of the current recommended anti-malaria drugs, so we need to stay ahead of parasite in case resistance emerges so that we have new ways to treat until we develop methods to completely eradicate malaria," he noted.

The researcher said the main aim of the new anti-malaria drug is to reduce the number of days required for treatment.

"With current treatment, patients need to take the medicine for three days and this could lead to cases of drug resistance if individuals stop taking medication before the required time," he added.

According to the Ministry of Health, most fatalities from malaria are from children as their immunity is not as high as that of adults.

Otieno noted that if patients don't seek medical attention in time, it can lead to complications such as cerebral malaria, anemia or even renal failure.