Cameroonian children will now be able to be vaccinated to protect them from malaria, one of the deadliest diseases in Africa.
Of the 249 million cases of malaria and more than 600,000 deaths worldwide in 2022, the vast majority occurred in Africa, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Children under five are among those most at risk.
On Monday, the world’s first malaria vaccine, known as RTS,S, began being rolled out for routine immunizations in Africa following its approval by the WHO in 2021. Pilots for the vaccine took place in Ghana, Malawi and Kenya.
“This is a giant step forward in our collective efforts to save children’s lives and reduce the burden of malaria,” said Andrew Jones, senior advisor at the Vaccine Center in the UNICEF Supply Division, during a press briefing from Copenhagen.
Cameroonian babies and other children under five are the first to receive vaccines.
“There has been excitement throughout the community to know that we finally have another tool to fight malaria,” said Mbianke Livancliff of Value Health Africa in Yaoundé.
Wilfred Fon Mbacham, professor of public health biotechnology at the University of Yaoundé, said one of his earliest memories was his first bout of malaria.
“One of the things that kept me from going to school was a bout of malaria from which I emerged with muscle pain, headaches and fatigue,” he said.
“We feared getting sick with malaria and being treated with chloroquine,” which caused a lot of itching, he said. Today’s medications have fewer side effects, he added.
Dr Dorothy Achu, head of the WHO team for tropical and vector-borne diseases at the Regional Office for Africa in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, said malaria cases in Africa are falling but continue to be higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic – a reflection public health is not fully recovering from service interruptions.
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“In the malaria community, we always say we don’t have a silver bullet,” Achu said.
That’s why vaccination campaigns alone won’t be enough to stop outbreaks, and measures such as insecticide-treated bed nets must also be continued, doctors say.
John Johnson, an expert on vaccines and outbreak response at Doctors Without Borders in Paris, said malaria is the No. 1 disease his group treats in all its programs.
WATCH | Malaria vaccine expectations:
Johnson called the rollout big news, noting that RTS,S is the first vaccine against a parasite.
But Johnson also warned that administering the multiple doses required could pose a challenge on top of routine childhood vaccinations against measles, yellow fever and other diseases, given that malaria vaccinations are given later in a child’s life than those already scheduled, thus requiring more medical care. visits.
“I think it’s going to take a lot of support, guidance and hard work from countries and partners to ensure success,” said Johnson, a nurse practitioner who is not involved in the campaign.
Public health experts say a second approved malaria vaccine, R21/Matrix-M, developed by the University of Oxford with help from the Serum Institute of India, is also expected to be rolled out in Africa later this year.
“Having two malaria vaccines will help close the huge gap between supply and demand and could save tens of thousands of young lives, especially in Africa,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General , during a UN meeting. board of directors of the organization.
RTS, S and R21 both act against the falciparum form of the malaria parasite, which is widespread on the African continent.