FIGHTING KILLER DISEASE

Malaria vaccine gives kids a lifeline

Disease remains one of the top 10 causes of death.

In Summary
  • To get maximum benefits from the vaccine, four doses will be given to children in month 6, 7, 9 and 24.
  • The vaccine will be introduced in eight counties with a high malaria burden of up to 20 per cent.

As a nation, we have made tremendous progress in the fight against malaria. This has been achieved through the scale-up of Insecticide-Treated Mosquito Nets (ITNs), Indoor Residual Spraying with insecticides (IRS), and appropriate diagnosis and treatment using Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies (ACTs).

These interventions have over the last decade reduced malaria prevalence to eight from 13 per cent in children under five years old. However, even with these initiatives, malaria still remains one of the top 10 causes of death, and a leading killer of children under five years old.

The prevalence has remained high, with an incidence of up to 27 per cent among children aged less than five years old, especially in the lake region where the condition is endemic.

For instance, malaria caused an estimated 3.5 million infections and just over 10,000 deaths in Kenya in 2016, overwhelming the health facility capacity in the malaria-endemic lake region. This situation has called for new and complementary tools to further reduce the disease burden.

In that respect, we recently unveiled a phased introduction of the first malaria vaccine, which marks a major milestone for our country. The vaccine offers an additional way to protect young children from malaria. The vaccine will form part of the package of recommended malaria prevention measures. When used with existing measures, such as ITNs, the vaccine has the potential to save thousands of young lives.

With it, Kenya has now joined Malawi and Ghana as the third African nation to introduce the vaccine. This is an affirmation of the government’s commitment towards control, elimination and eradication of communicable diseases.

The government is offering the vaccine, which has been approved as safe and effective, free of charge in all health facilities. Clinical trials have shown that when used alongside other recommended malaria interventions, fewer incidents of malaria in children and less hospital admissions will be experienced.

Kenya’s new strategic direction for malaria eradication is to have at least 80 per cent of people living in malaria-risk areas having access to appropriate malaria preventive interventions.

This strategy involves a sustained implementation of the existing interventions, as well as the introduction of new interventions, such as the malaria vaccine.

The vaccine will be introduced in eight counties with a high malaria burden of up to 20 per cent. These are Bungoma, Busia, Homa Bay, Kakamega, Kisumu, Migori, Siaya and Vihiga. Selected subcounties in these counties will have the opportunity to initially introduce the vaccine while the remaining will introduce it a later stage.

To get maximum benefits from the vaccine, four doses will be given to children in month 6, 7, 9 and 24.

I therefore urge parents of children in these age groups and residing in selected subcounties to visit the nearest health facilities or selected immunisation sites for vaccination to protect their loved ones from malaria.

The government is offering the vaccine, which has been approved as safe and effective, free of charge in all health facilities. Clinical trials have shown that when used alongside other recommended malaria interventions, fewer incidents of malaria in children and less hospital admissions will be experienced.

The vaccine can prevent four out of 10 malaria infections and prevent severe malaria by more than 30 per cent in the 6-24 months age group.

As we move to scale up universal health coverage (UHC) as part of the nation’s Big Four agenda, immunisation is a key pillar of disease control. 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 healthcare and dynamic disease epidemiology and burden, make it necessary to leverage on every shilling available for healthcare services.

Thus investments in eradicating vaccine-preventable diseases will yield better macro and microeconomic outcomes. Such investments are central to economic, social and political development as every episode of malaria is time away from day to day activities such as going to school, work or engaging in development activities.

The Ministry of Health, therefore, remains resolute in our commitment to control, eliminate and eradicate vaccine-preventable diseases. The ministry will also continue to aid the procurement, warehousing and distribution of all childhood vaccines to regional depots.

At the introduction of the malaria vaccine, I handed over a four-wheel drive vehicle, a motorbike and cold chain equipment to Homa Bay county, which is part of a consignment of 125 fridges that have been installed across the country in the last one year and valued at Sh68 million.

These will facilitate the scale-up of immunisation activities, service delivery and malaria vaccine introduction in the county. This support has been carried out in the hope that it will complement the county investments in immunisation service delivery to reach every child.

Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Health