Benin, Liberia, Sierra-Leone join five other African countries to roll out malaria vaccine

The World Health Organisation has commended Benin, Liberia, and Sierra Leone for launching a ‘large-scale rollout’ of a life-saving malaria vaccine, targeting millions of children across the three West African nations. 

The vaccine rollout, announced on World Malaria Day, seeks further to scale up vaccine deployment in the African region, according to the global health body.

This new development increased the number of countries on the continent offering the malaria vaccine as part of their childhood immunisation programmes to eight.


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Between 2019 and July 2023, the malaria vaccine, the RTS, S/AS01, was administered to more than 1.7 million children in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi. 

The vaccine has since reached over 2 million children from 2019 to December 2023, showing a significant reduction in malaria illness, a 13 per cent drop in overall child mortality, and substantial reductions in hospitalisations in the three countries. 

The WHO noted that since 2019, Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi had been implementing the vaccine through the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme and had demonstrated its safety and efficacy in reducing severe malaria and child mortality. 

The initiative is coordinated by WHO and funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund, and Unitaid.

Meanwhile, WHO said that several of the over 30 countries in the African region had expressed interest in the vaccine and were scheduled to roll it out in the next year through support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, as efforts continue to widen its deployment in the region.

WHO stated that Benin, which received 215 900 doses, had added the malaria vaccine to its Expanded Programme on Immunization. The vaccine should be given in four doses to children around five months of age.

“The introduction of the malaria vaccine in the Expanded Programme on Immunization for our children is a major step forward in the fight against this scourge. I would like to reassure that the malaria vaccines are safe and effective and contribute to the protection of our children against this serious and fatal diseases,” said Benjamin Hounkpatin, a professor and Minister of Health of Benin.

According to WHO, the vaccine rollout commenced in Liberia’s southern Rivercess County and is scheduled to extend to five additional counties with significant malaria prevalence.

An estimated 45,000 children are anticipated to receive benefits from the 112,000 doses of the vaccine currently available.

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Also, in Sierra Leone, the first doses were administered to children at a health centre in Western Area Rural, where the authorities kicked off the rollout of 550,000 vaccine doses. The vaccine will then be delivered to health facilities nationwide. 

“With the new, safe and efficacious malaria vaccine, we now have an additional tool to fight this disease. In combination with insecticide-treated nets, effective diagnosis and treatment, and indoor spraying, no child should die from malaria infection,” said Austin Demby, a doctor and Minister of Health of Sierra Leone.

The ICIR reports that malaria remains a huge health challenge in the African region, with the region accounting for 94 per cent of global malaria cases and 95 per cent of all malaria deaths in 2022, according to the World Malaria Report 2023.

Challenges in the fight against Malaria




     

     

    WHO said in a statement commemorating International World Malaria Day that the fight against Malaria in African countries has stalled since 2017.

    The ICIR also reported that despite concerted efforts and interventions, Nigeria continues to face significant challenges in its fight against the disease.

    Some of the factors cited by WHO and the health experts who spoke to The ICIR include climate change, humanitarian crises, low access to and insufficient quality of health services, gender-related barriers, biological threats such as insecticide, drug resistance and global economic crises. 

    They also identified a lack of state ownership, poor budgetary allocations, and high out-of-pocket expenditures as contributing factors.

    Usman Mustapha is a solution journalist with International Centre for Investigative Reporting. You can easily reach him via: [email protected]. He tweets @UsmanMustapha_M

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