By Mark Kawalya
Cameroon is the first country to include the world’s first malaria vaccine in its national immunization services. This is a major step in Africa’s fight against malaria. About 662,000 doses of the RTS,S vaccine will be given to children in the country. This follows successful trials in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi between 2019 and 2021.
This move is a significant scale-up in the battle against malaria in Africa. Over 95% of the world’s malaria-related deaths occur in Africa, affecting mostly children under five. Dr. Mohammed Abdulaziz, the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, expressed enthusiasm about the vaccine. He added that the rollout is an important milestone in Africa’s public health history that will reduce the impact of malaria. Nineteen other African countries have plans to roll out the vaccine this year, aiming to reach 6.6 million children. Vaccine deliveries are scheduled for Burkina Faso, Liberia, Niger, and Sierra Leone.
Public health experts emphasize the importance of clear communication to encourage strong uptake of the vaccine. This will build up trust, which is necessary if the recipients are to complete all four doses of the vaccine. However, it should be noted that the vaccine works best when combined with other preventative measures, like sleeping under insecticide-treated mosquito bed nets.
According to Kate O’Brien, the director of the WHO’s immunizations and vaccines department, the trial data of the RTS,S vaccine indicates it could save tens of thousands of lives. Mbianke Livancliff, from the Cameroonian nonprofit Value Health Africa, says there has been hope among the people since the vaccines arrived in November. Value Health Africa has been actively engaging communities through meetings and open discussions to address concerns and ensure a smooth rollout.
Thomas Breuer, the chief global health officer at GlaxoSmithKline, the vaccine’s producer, called it a significant development. “After more than 35 years of dedicated work with our partners to develop the world’s first malaria vaccine, Mosquirix, it’s rewarding to see it in routine use for the first time. We’re excited that more malaria-endemic countries are preparing to introduce the vaccine over the coming months.”