The war against malaria, a leading global killer, has moved a notch higher with the announcement of successful clinical trials of a vaccine for children - the group that is most vulnerable to the disease.
The vaccine, called RTS,S, is the world's most advanced against malaria according to the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative (M.V.I.), an international non-profit group that helps manage the development of promising vaccines.
PATH Initiative said the malaria vaccine was moving into the final stage of its trial stage to become one of the many efforts aimed at eradicating malaria particularly in Africa.
Kenya has recently reported significant gains in the fight against malaria. This success has been mainly attributed to increased use of bed nets, insecticides, and better administration of antimalarial medication.
The World Health Organization, however, estimates that malaria still infects about half a billion people and kills more than a million each year.
Developed by Glaxo SmithKline in partnership with M.V.I. the new vaccine has been tried in a number of centres in Africa, including Kenya and is now set to undergo mass trials in the fourth quarter of 2008.
According to a posting on Worldpress.org, an online health publication, infants were a critical population for the tests because children and pregnant women in sub-Saharan Africa account for 90 per cent of malaria deaths worldwide.
"If the vaccine becomes successful, it will be a milestone in eradicating malaria from Kenya and indeed the whole world," said Dr Armstrong Mwenda, a government doctor based in Kiambu District Hospital.
During the trial in Mozambique, 214 infants were given the vaccine and M.V.I said it reduced the risk of infection by 65 per cent over three months after the full three doses, and the risk of showing malaria symptoms dropped 35 per cent over a six-month follow-up period after the first dose.
The side effects of pain and swelling were typical of most vaccines given to infants.
Dr Fabian Easamai, the Dean of the School of Medicine at Moi University and a co director for the trials, said "any vaccine that would eliminate or control malaria would have a direct impact on the economy due to the high cost burden that the country currently bears in treatment and deaths."
About 3,000 children die every day worldwide from parasites that cause malaria-usually the deadly and common Plasmodium falciparum, which relies on the Anopheles mosquito as a go-between to settle in human hosts.
Dr Mwenda reckons that the researchers have yet to overcome a number of obstacles, including determining the vaccine's efficacy in different environments.
Knowing that the vaccine can reduce transmission in an area of intense disease is a strong incentive for the expanded trial later this year in which the vaccine will be tested on 16,000 infants and young children in seven African countries including Kenya.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has funded M.V.I with about six billion shillings since the trials began in 2005.
The current preventive and therapeutic attempts to counter malaria have been weakened due to increased resistance by both parasites and mosquitoes.