UN Announces Broader Rollout of Malaria Vaccine in Africa, Signalling a New Era in Disease Control

The United Nations has announced the expansion of malaria vaccination efforts across Africa following the arrival of the first shipment of doses in Cameroon. After a successful pilot phase in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi, where over two million children were vaccinated since 2019, the program is now entering a broader rollout phase. A total of 331,200 doses of RTS,S, the first malaria vaccine recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO), have arrived in Cameroon’s capital, Yaounde.

The WHO, UNICEF, and the Gavi vaccine alliance released a joint statement welcoming the delivery, stating that it signifies the imminent scale-up of malaria vaccination in high-risk areas of the African continent. They described it as a historic step toward vaccinating against one of the deadliest diseases affecting African children. The doses are donated by the manufacturer GSK.

Cameroon’s Health Minister, Malachie Manaouda, urged parents to take advantage of this life-saving intervention, emphasising that malaria remains a significant public health threat in the country. In the coming weeks, an additional 1.7 million doses will be delivered to Burkina Faso, Liberia, Niger, and Sierra Leone.

Malaria is the leading cause of mortality in infants and children under five in Liberia. Wilhelmina Jallah, Liberia’s Health Minister, expressed the potential of the vaccine to save many lives and alleviate the burden of the disease.

Several African countries are finalising preparations to introduce malaria vaccines into routine immunisation programs, with the first doses set to be administered between January and March 2024. UNICEF Chief Catherine Russell likened the introduction of vaccines to adding a star player to the field, marking a new era in immunisation and malaria control.

Africa accounted for approximately 95 percent of global malaria cases and 96 percent of related deaths in 2021. While global malaria deaths fell significantly between 2000 and 2019, reaching 568,000, they increased by 10 percent in 2020 to 625,000 due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on protection and treatment efforts. In 2021, deaths slightly decreased to 619,000, with 77 percent of them being children under five. Global malaria cases rose slightly to 247 million.

The rollout of the RTS,S vaccine is considered a breakthrough moment for malaria vaccines and disease control. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus described it as a ray of light in a dark time for vulnerable children worldwide. The vaccine targets the plasmodium falciparum parasite, the most deadly malaria parasite globally and the most prevalent in Africa. Administered in a four-dose schedule starting around five months of age, the broad implementation of malaria vaccination in endemic regions has the potential to be a game-changer, saving tens of thousands of lives annually, according to the joint statement released by the WHO, UNICEF, and Gavi.

David Walton, the United States’ global malaria coordinator, described this moment as the culmination of decades of efforts and expressed hope for a world in which no child dies from a mosquito bite. The expanded vaccination campaign brings renewed optimism for malaria control and paves the way for a future where the impact of this devastating disease is significantly reduced.


Source; Africa News