Vaccine could save millions from malaria in Africa as 3 more nations roll out vaccine

Vaccine could save millions from malaria in Africa as 3 more nations roll out vaccine

“In a significant step forward for malaria prevention in Africa, three countries—Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone—today launched a large-scale rollout of the life-saving malaria vaccine targeting millions of children across the three West African nations. The vaccine rollout, announced on World Malaria Day, seeks to further scale up vaccine deployment in the African region,” reports the World Health Organization.

Five other nations, such as Cameroon in equatorial Africa, already offer the vaccine. The vaccine is being deployed “in coordination with other prevention measures such as long-lasting insecticidal nets and seasonal malaria chemoprevention.”

Benin is a country in West Africa located just west of Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country. Benin has received 216,000 doses. It will administer them in a schedule of 4 doses in children starting around 5 months of age.

“The introduction of the malaria vaccine in the Expanded Program 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 Professor Benjamin Hounkpatin, Benin’s health minister.

Liberia’s is Africa’s rainiest country — its capital, Monrovia, gets 180 inches of rain each year. Liberia is launching its vaccination campaign in swampy Rivercess County in its south, and will later be rolled out afterwards in five other counties which have high malaria burden. At least 45.000 children are expected to benefit.

“For far too long, malaria has stolen the laughter and dreams of our children. But today, with this vaccine and the unwavering commitment of our communities, healthcare workers and our partners, including GAVI, UNICEF and WHO, we break the chain. We have a powerful tool that will protect them from this devastating illness and related deaths, ensuring their right to health and a brighter future. Let’s end malaria in Liberia,” said Dr Louise Kpoto, the Liberian health minister. The WHO explains:

Two safe and effective vaccines — RTS,S and R21 — recommended by World Health Organization (WHO), are a breakthrough for child health and malaria control. A pilot malaria vaccine program in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi reached over 2 million children from 2019 to 2023, showing a significant reduction in malaria illness and a 13% drop in overall child mortality and substantial reductions in hospitalizations.

In Sierra Leone, the first doses were administered to children at a health center in Western Area Rural where the authorities kicked off the rollout of 550 000 vaccine doses. The vaccine will then be delivered in 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 Dr Austin Demby, the Sierra Leonean health minister.

“Malaria remains a huge health challenge in the African region, which is home to 11 countries that carry approximately 70% of the global burden of malaria. The region accounted for 94% of global malaria cases and 95% of all malaria deaths in 2022, according to the World Malaria Report 2023,” notes the WHO.

This vaccine — the first vaccine approved to fight malaria — cut deaths among young children by 13% over nearly 4 years, reported Science. Now, millions of doses of the vaccine are headed to Africa, starting with a shipment last year of 330,000 doses of the RTS.S malaria vaccine to the central African nation of Cameroon. It’s the first country to get the vaccine, other than the three countries that got the vaccine as part of a successful pilot project.

As the World Health Organization noted, “Malaria burden is the highest on the African continent, which accounted for approximately 95% of global malaria cases and 96% of related deaths in 2021. With several African countries now finalizing roll-out plans, an additional 1.7 million doses are set for delivery to Burkina Faso, Liberia, Niger and Sierra Leone in the coming weeks.

Oddly, the first shipment of doses was sent to Cameroon’s capital city, Yaoundé, not Cameroon’s biggest city and major port, Douala, which has more malaria in its vicinity, and has Cameroon’s biggest airport. Malaria transmission is common in Douala.

As the WHO noted,

Nearly every minute, a child under five dies of malaria. In 2021, there were 247 million malaria cases globally, which led to 619 000 deaths. Of these deaths, 77 per cent were children under 5 years of age, mostly in Africa. Malaria burden is the highest on the African continent, which accounts for approximately 95% of global malaria cases and 96% of related deaths in 2021….

Since 2019, Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi have been administering the vaccine in a schedule of 4 doses from around 5 months of age in selected districts as part of the pilot program, known as the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Program (MVIP). More than 2 million children have been reached with the malaria vaccine in the three African countries through MVIP – 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. Other key findings from the pilot program show that vaccine uptake is high, with no reduction in use of other malaria prevention measures or uptake of other vaccines. MVIP is coordinated by WHO in collaboration with PATH, UNICEF and other partners, and funded by Gavi, the Global Fund, and UNITAID, with donated doses from GSK, the manufacturer of the RTS,S vaccine.

Scientists recently came up with an “inverse vaccine” that has shown it can treat auto-immune diseases in a lab setting, so doctors might be able to use it to reverse multiple sclerosis. Note, however, that the FDA can take many years to approve life-saving drugs and medical devices.

Scientists recently discovered a new antibiotic that can kill drug-resistant bacteria.

A virus is being used to cure deafness in new gene therapy. Researchers also discovered that a plant virus could be used to save crops from root-eating pests.

Recently, a treatment was discovered for sleeping sickness, a disease that kills 50,000 to 500,000 people per year.

LU Staff

LU Staff

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