Kenya has become the third African nation to pilot the world’s first malaria vaccine.
Kenya has partnered with the World Health Organization (WHO) to pilot the vaccine known as RTS,S, developed by GlaxoSmithKline, which aims to significantly reduce cases of malaria in Africa.
The phased vaccination programme, which is also being trialled in Malawi and Ghana, will be implemented in the eight Kenyan counties with the highest rates of malaria – Homabay, Kisumu, Migori, Siaya, Busia, Bungoma, Vihiga and Kakamega.
Four doses of the vaccine must be given to children between six and 24 months old. It works by training the immune system to attack the malaria parasite, which is carried by mosquitoes.
The vaccine aims to prevent the impact of malaria on children who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities.
In clinical trials, the vaccine was found to prevent approximately four out of 10 cases of malaria and reduce severe cases of malaria in 6-24 month-olds by a third.
Cabinet secretary for health Sicily Kariuki said: “The trials have shown that when used alongside other recommended malaria interventions, fewer incidents of malaria in children and less hospital admissions will be experienced.”
Research from WHO found Africa accounted for 93% of malaria deaths in 2017. The disease kills about 435,000 people every year and children under five are at greatest risk of life-threatening complications.
Kenya’s Ministry of Health said the disease is prevalent in the country “especially in the lake region where the condition is endemic”.
The ministry aims to vaccinate 120,000 children each year across the selected introduction areas. Other counties are expected to introduce the vaccine at a later date.
Kariuki said Kenya’s new strategic direction for malaria eradication is to ensure 80% of people living in high risk areas have access to appropriate malaria-preventive interventions.
In the last decade, Kenya has scaled up its preventative measures, such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual spray with insecticides and medications for treatment.
“These interventions have reduced malaria prevalence for under-fives to 8% from 13%,” she said.
Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa said: “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.
“The ongoing pilots will provide the key information and data to inform a WHO policy on the broader use of the vaccine in sub-Saharan Africa. If introduced widely, the vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives.”
The pilot has been funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and Unitaid.
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