22nd July 2024

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WHO urges Malaria vaccine signals in new African Health era

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Malaria

Tulani Ngwenya

Pretoria – In a historic stride towards combating one of Africa’s deadliest diseases, more than 330,000 doses of the World Health Organization’s (WHO)-recommended RTS,S Malaria vaccine landed in Yaoundé, Cameroon, marking the initiation of shipments to African nations. This momentous delivery, the first to a country not previously part of the malaria vaccine pilot programme, is a pivotal step towards broader vaccination against malaria, particularly affecting African children.

The malaria burden on the African continent is staggering, with approximately 95% of global malaria cases and 96% of related deaths reported in 2021. With the newly arrived doses, several African nations, including Burkina Faso, Liberia, Niger, and Sierra Leone, are in the final stages of preparations for the rollout. An additional 1.7 million doses are set for delivery in the coming weeks, laying the groundwork for countries to commence vaccinations through Gavi-supported routine immunisation programmes in Q1 2024.

“Nearly every minute, a child under five dies of malaria,” stated Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General. “But we must not stop here. Together, we must find the will and the resources to bring malaria vaccines to scale, so more children can live longer, healthier lives.”

Since 2019, Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi have been administering the vaccine as part of the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (MVIP), with over 2 million children reached. The pilot programme demonstrated a remarkable 13% drop in all-cause mortality among age-eligible children, reinforcing the vaccine’s impact.

The arrival of the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine in Burkina Faso was hailed by Dr. Robert Lucien Jean-Claude Kargougou, Burkina Faso’s Minister of Health and Public Hygiene: “We are hopeful that the introduction of this vaccine into routine immunisation for children aged 0 to 23 months will have the potential to reduce the burden of this disease and save many lives.”

UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell called the development a “real game changer” in the fight against malaria, emphasising that introducing vaccines is akin to adding a “star player to the pitch.”

Read more on the matter.

Malaria Vaccine Arrival Marks Progress Toward Broader Rollout

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The phased introduction of the RTS,S vaccine, coupled with the ongoing review of the R21 vaccine by the WHO for prequalification, signals a new era in malaria control efforts. The availability of two vaccines is expected to meet the high demand from African countries, potentially saving tens of thousands of lives annually.

Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund, lauded the news: “Using this vaccine, appropriately prioritised in the context of existing tools, could help prevent malaria and save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”

Anticipations are high that this historic breakthrough in malaria control will have a major impact on public health and help achieve the larger global goal of eliminating malaria-related deaths as African countries prepare for the scaled-up vaccination, which is being supported by Gavi, WHO, UNICEF, and partners.

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