The WHO Africa Regional Director Dr. Matshidiso Moeti says the malaria vaccine just introduced recently in 2019 has been well accepted in a short time that demand for it remained high even in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance has put aside US $160million to help countries in Africa access the world’s first malaria vaccine.
The money will be used between 2022 and 2025, starting with Ghana, Kenya and Malawi which were the three countries where pilot introduction for Mosquirix or RTS,S vaccine were done in 2019.
According to a World Health Organization (WHO) statement released on Thursday, up to 1.3million children have so far benefitted from the vaccine in the three African pilot countries.
Dr. Matshidiso Moeti the WHO Africa Regional Director says the vaccine just introduced recently in 2019 has been well accepted in a short time that demand for it remained high even in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
She said coverage with the first dose is between 73% and 90% depending on the country and that the new GAVI funding opportunity brings the continent one step closer to reaching millions more children.
“Throughout the pandemic, when routine health services faced myriad challenges, parents and caregivers diligently brought their children to clinics and health posts to get the malaria vaccine. They know all too well that lives are being lost to malaria every day and are eager to protect their children from this deadly disease.”
According to WHO, malaria remains a major cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2020, nearly half a million African children died from malaria or 1 child died of malaria every minute.
The vaccine is touted as the magic that will turn around this grim picture. WHO recommended its widespread use in October 2021 for regions with high and moderate transmission of the disease.
Since then, a number of malaria-endemic countries including Uganda have expressed interest in adopting the vaccine and are now expected to apply for Gavi support to introduce the vaccine. The vaccines alliance has indicated that the first application for the countries that piloted the vaccine expires in September. A second window open to other eligible malaria-endemic countries will close in January 2023.
But, Moeti says countries can already submit expressions of interest during the first funding window for inclusion in this round.
The RTS,S vaccine works specifically against Plasmodium falciparum, which is the deadliest malaria parasite and the most prevalent on the African continent. Where the vaccine has been introduced, there has been a substantial drop in children being hospitalized with severe malaria and drop-in child death in the age group that is eligible for the vaccine, WHO reports.
However, like many vaccines being supplied for the first time, there are fears that not all that need the drug will get it.
Thabani Maphosa, Managing Director of Country Programmes at Gavi acknowledges that they appreciate this fact and says the initial funding is just the beginning of a broader rollout that will see populations across the continent increasingly protected against this deadly disease.
A WHO global market study estimates that demand for the vaccine will range from eighty to a hundred million doses annually and this is insufficient for the needs of the over twenty-five million children born annually in malaria-endemic countries.
In response to the supply situation, WHO has developed a framework to guide vaccine allocation decisions at global and country levels that ensures children at the highest risk across endemic countries are prioritized to receive the vaccine. The framework also aims to ensure that childhood vaccination services started in the three pilot countries continue without disruption until supply fully meets demand.
“Now is the time for African countries and communities to call out their interest – to donors, health leaders and manufacturers – in early access to this vaccine. Lives are at stake, every day,” added Dr Moeti. “This situation underlines once again why expanded local production of vaccines is essential for meeting health needs in Africa. We’ve seen encouraging first steps in that direction in recent months, and we are committed to supporting further efforts to expand vaccine production in Africa.”
The vaccine is supposed to be given in four doses to children of at least five months of age.