ONE YEAR ON

Malaria vaccine uptake promising

Kenya launched the routine use of the malaria vaccine, RTS, S, in September 2019.

In Summary
  • Already, some 400,000 children across Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi, including 128,000 in Kenya, have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
  • Eight Kenyan counties—Homa Bay, Kisumu, Migori, Siaya, Busia, Bungoma, Vihiga, and Kakamega—are providing the vaccine.
A child gets the RTS,S malaria vaccine during the clinical trials.
A child gets the RTS,S malaria vaccine during the clinical trials.
Image: FILE

One year after Kenya introduced the world’s first malaria vaccine, I feel a great sense of pride as Director of Public Health Sanitation and Health Planning in Siaya. We continue to deploy successful strategies, including immunisation, to protect children from diseases such as malaria. Communities like ours must remain vigilant in the face of threats such as the current pandemic, that place at risk some of our most valued gains in public health.

Kenya launched the routine use of the malaria vaccine, RTS, S, in September 2019. We took the step as one of three countries – including Ghana and Malawi – to pilot the vaccine as an additional malaria tool. And thanks to the hard work and commitment by our health workers, community health volunteers, and others, uptake of this and other vaccines remains high.

More than 100,000 children in Kenya have received their first dose of RTS,S through routine childhood vaccination, and some are receiving the final, fourth, dose.

As we navigate the logistical challenges introduced by the Covid-19 pandemic, we continue to strive to provide safe clinic services and to work with parents and communities to bring children for immunisation. Our mission is clear: we must continue to protect our communities from life-threatening diseases.

But we have good reason for optimism. We see real potential to significantly reduce malaria infections and deaths with the addition of the malaria vaccine to the toolkit of proven malaria control measures.

RTS,S is the first and only vaccine to significantly reduce malaria in African children. The vaccine also reduces cases of severe malaria and related hospital admissions.

Already, some 400,000 children across Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi, including 128,000 in Kenya, have received at least one dose of the vaccine. Eight Kenyan counties—Homa Bay, Kisumu, Migori, Siaya, Busia, Bungoma, Vihiga, and Kakamega—are providing the vaccine.

Despite the Covid-19 challenges, families in Siaya continue to take children for vaccines. Among the keys to our success are the more than 2,148 community health volunteers who fan out across the county, interacting with parents of young children.

The volunteers reach about 256,000 households every year. In addition, we work closely with a range of stakeholders—political representatives, religious leaders and local media—to increase awareness of vaccines and their benefits.

We’re also benefiting from other proven outreach strategies. One example is an online system—an electronic vaccine register instituted well before the pandemic—that we use to register children for vaccination. This allows us to monitor individual immunisation schedules and to send reminders to caregivers. In addition, outreach through community institutions such as local churches helps to gently urge parents to stay on track with immunisation.

Overall, despite the challenges created by the pandemic, we can avoid losing ground on immunisation and other health services. We will continue to need this kind of resolve, as in some parts of Africa malaria infections are once again on the rise after years of decline.

Continued use of proven strategies is vital to our communities’ well-being.

Director, Public Health Sanitation and Health Planning, Siaya