•Thirty years in the making, the vaccine is a complementary malaria control tool to be added to the core package of WHO recommended measures for malaria prevention
•The vaccine, known as RTS,S, will be available to children from six months of age in selected areas of the country in a phased pilot introduction
The ongoing malaria vaccine pilots will provide key information and data to inform a World Health Organisation policy on the broader use of the vaccine in sub-Saharan Africa.
WHO regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti on Friday said if introduced widely, the vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives.
“Africa has witnessed a recent surge in the number of malaria cases and deaths. This threatens the gains in the fight against malaria made in the past two decades,” Moeti said.
The malaria vaccine pilot programme is now fully underway in Africa, with Kenya joining Ghana and Malawi to introduce the landmark vaccine as a tool against a disease that continues to affect millions of children in Africa.
The vaccine, known as RTS,S, will be available to children from six months in selected areas of the country in a phased pilot introduction.
The aim is to vaccinate more than 120,000 children per year in Kenya across the selected introduction areas, including Homa Bay, Kisumu, Migori, Siaya, Busia, Bungoma, Vihiga and Kakamega counties. Within the eight counties, some sub-counties will introduce the vaccine into immunisation schedules while others are expected to introduce the vaccine later.
Despite the country making tremendous progress in eliminating the disease, malaria still remains one of the top 10 causes of death in the country, and a leading killer of children under 5.
The prevalence according to the Health CS Sicily Kariuki has remained high, with an incidence of up to 27 per cent among children aged less than five years, especially in the lake region, where the condition is endemic.
“The introduction of the malaria vaccine falls under the key portfolio of public health services that will drive the achievement of UHC. The rising costs of health care and dynamic disease epidemiology and burden, make it necessary to leverage on every shilling available for health care services,” the CS noted.
Thirty years in the making, the vaccine is a complementary malaria control tool to be added to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention, including the routine use of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying with insecticides and timely access to malaria testing and treatment.
It is the first and only vaccine to significantly reduce malaria in children, including life-threatening malaria.
“Vaccines are powerful tools that effectively reach and better protect the health of children who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes,” WHO Representative to Kenya Dr Rudi Eggers said.
Adding that “This is a day to celebrate as we begin to learn more about what this vaccine can do to change the trajectory of malaria though childhood vaccination.”
The WHO coordinated pilot programme is a collaboration with the ministries of health in Ghana,
Kenya and Malawi and a range of in country and international partners, including PATH, a nonprofit organization, and GSK, the vaccine developer and manufacturer, which is donating up to 10 million vaccine doses for this pilot.
Financing for the pilot programme has been mobilized through an unprecedented collaboration among the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Unitaid.
Known side effects include pain and swelling at the injection site, and fever. These side effects are similar to reactions observed with other vaccines given to children.