Malaria Vaccines Set For Broader Rollout In Africa

Following the arrival of the first consignment of malaria vaccine pills in Cameroon on Wednesday, the United Nations announced the impending expansion of malaria vaccination across Africa.

Since 2019, over two million children have been immunized in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi as part of a trial program, resulting in significant decreases in severe malaria sickness and hospitalizations.

The scheme is now expanding, with 331,200 doses of RTS,S — the first malaria vaccine recommended by the World Health Organization — arriving in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde, on Tuesday.

In a joint statement, the WHO, UNICEF, and the Gavi vaccine alliance said the delivery “indicates that scale-up of malaria vaccination across the highest-risk areas on the African continent will begin shortly.”

According to them, it was “a historic step towards broader vaccination against one of the deadliest diseases for African children” .

The doses are donated by manufacturer GSK.

“We encourage all parents to take advantage of this life-saving intervention,” said Cameroon’s Health Minister Malachie Manaouda, adding that malaria “remains a major public health threat in the country”.

In the next weeks, another 1.7 million pills will be delivered to Burkina Faso, Liberia, Niger, and Sierra Leone.

Malaria is the primary cause of death among infants and children under the age of five in Liberia, according to Health Minister Wilhelmina Jallah.

“This vaccine has the potential to save many lives and reduce the burden of this disease,” she added.

Breakthrough moment

Several African countries are finalizing plans to incorporate malaria vaccines into standard immunization programs, with the first doses scheduled to be administered in January-March 2024.

“Introducing vaccines is like adding a star player to the pitch… we are entering a new era in immunisation and malaria control,” said UNICEF chief Catherine Russell.

In 2021, Africa accounted for nearly 95% of worldwide malaria cases and 96% of related deaths from the mosquito-borne disease.

Annual global malaria mortality declined considerably between 2000 and 2019, when they stood at 568,000, but increased 10% to 625,000 in 2020 as the COVID-19 crisis hampered protection and treatment efforts.

Deaths fell marginally to 619,000 in 2021, with children under the age of five accounting for 77% of all deaths. Meanwhile, the global malaria case count increased marginally to 247 million.

According to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the vaccine deployment is a “breakthrough moment for malaria vaccines and malaria control, and a ray of light in a dark time for so many vulnerable children around the world.”

The RTS,S vaccine protects against Plasmodium falciparum, the most lethal malaria parasite in the world and the most common in Africa.

It is given in a four-dose regimen that begins at the age of five months.

“Broad implementation of malaria vaccination in endemic regions has the potential to be a game-changer for malaria control efforts, and could save tens of thousands of lives each year,” the joint statement said.

“This moment has been decades in the making,” said the United States’ global malaria coordinator David Walton, as he looked forward to “a world in which no child dies from a mosquito bite”.

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