World Malaria Day 2023 World Malaria Day 2023  (ANSA)

First shipments of WHO-approved Malaria vaccine arrive in Cameroon

The first global shipment of a WHO-approved malaria vaccine arrives in Cameroon, marking the start of a continent-wide rollout where 95% of global malaria cases are found, one of the deadliest diseases for children.

By Thaddeus Jones

Shipments of the first World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended malaria vaccine arrived in Cameroon on 21 November. 330,000 doses of the RTS,S vaccine will be administered in the central African nation, marking a historic move towards broader vaccination against the disease. The United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF) and WHO report that nearly every minute, a child under five dies of malaria totalling close to half a million deaths per year, making it one of the deadliest diseases for African children. 

247 million cases of malaria in 2021

In 2021 alone an estimated 247 million malaria cases and 619,000 malaria deaths occurred globally, but the African Region continues to bear the heaviest burden, making up 95% of cases and 96% of deaths globally, according to the WHO.

In a media statement on 22 November, UNICEF also announced that several other African countries are finalizing their own rollout plans for malaria vaccination with an additional 1.7 million doses set for delivery to Burkina Faso, Liberia, Niger and Sierra Leone in the coming weeks.

Saving children, reducing illness

The vaccine delivery to Cameroon, a country not previously involved in the malaria vaccine pilot programme, is the prelude to this wider vaccine programme against malaria in the highest-risk areas of Africa. UNICEF notes that a number of countries will soon introduce the malaria vaccine into routine immunisation programmes with the first doses to be administered in early 2024. Preparations involve training healthcare workers, investing in infrastructure, technical capacity, vaccine storage, community engagement and demand, in coordination with delivery of other vaccines and provision of health services. The RTS,S vaccine also requires a four-dose schedule that must be followed carefully.

The UNICEF statement also reports that since 2019, Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi have been administering the vaccine in areas that are part of the pilot programme, known as the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (MVIP). More than two million children received the malaria vaccine in the three African countries "resulting in a remarkable 13% drop in all-cause mortality in children age-eligible to receive the vaccine, and substantial reductions in severe malaria illness and hospitalizations," demonstrating the "impact and safety of the RTS,S vaccine."

WHO is also looking to recommend another medicine, the R21/Matrix-M vaccine for malaria prevention, that has shown promising results as "the vaccine has a good safety profile in the clinical trial setting and reduces malaria in children."

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22 November 2023, 16:27