April 24 (UPI) -- The World Health Organization, or WHO, has chosen Ghana, Kenya and Malawi to be the first three countries to test the world's first malaria vaccine.
Malaria is one of the world's most stubborn health challenges, infecting more than 200 million people every year and kills roughly half a million people, mostly in Africa.
The WHO Regional Office for Africa, or AFRO, chose the three African nations to test the injectable RTS.S, vaccine to be used as a complementary malaria control tool.
"The prospect of a malaria vaccine is great news," Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said in a press release. "Information gathered in the pilot will help us make decisions on the wider use of this vaccine. Combined with existing malaria interventions, such a vaccine would have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives in Africa."
RTS.S, also known as Mosquirix, is not universally effective and its protection against malaria fades after a year, but is effective when combined with other efforts such as treated bed nets.
RTS.S was approved for use by the European Medicines Agency after clinical testing on more than 16,000 children in eight African countries.
Countries in Africa have been hit particularly hard by malaria, with cases there making up 90 percent of those in the entire world in 2015.
The three countries were selected based on high coverage of long-lasting insecticidal-treated nets, well-functioning malaria and immunization programs, a high malaria burden even after increased use of nets and participation in the Phase III RTS.S clinical trial.
The vaccination program will begin being administered in 2018 in the selected areas.