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Oxford malaria vaccine rollout could have ‘major’ implications in sub-Saharan Africa, economist says

Nigeria this week granted regulatory clearance for the R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine developed by the University of Oxford, a week after Ghana became the first country to approve the vaccine. The vaccine has been approved for use in children aged between five and 36 months, the age group at highest risk of death from the mosquito-borne disease that is the leading cause of death among children in Africa. The University of Oxford estimates that malaria kills around 800,000 people per year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa where one in five childhood deaths is associated with the disease. Trials so far have suggested that R21 is far more potent in combating the disease that GSK’s RTS,S malaria vaccine, which was signed off on by the World Health Organization in 2021 following pilot programmes in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. Manufactured by India’s Serum Institute, the vaccine is cheap to produce and straightforward to transport. A successful rollout could have “major positive economic implications,” according to William Jackson, chief emerging markets economist at Capital Economics. Lower childhood mortality would reduce the population’s costs of prevention and treatment, freeing resources for other consumption or domestic investment. Fewer malaria-related absences from school and work and lasting immunity for older children and adults could increase human capital and labour supply, respectively, adding significantly to GDP growth. A study by the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene showed that GDP per capita in malaria-intensive countries grew by 1.3 percentage points less per year than comparable peers between 1965 and 1990, while Jamaica and Taiwan recorded a 0.2-0.8 percentage point acceleration in growth per annum relative to peers after eradicating malaria.

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