By Sola Ogundipe
ON the heels of its success in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, there are strong indications that the world’s first malaria vaccine will soon be available in Nigeria and across Sub-Saharan Africa.
Currently, one million children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi have received at least one dose of the first malaria vaccine known as RTS,S/AS01E and marketed under the brand name Mosquirix.
It targets children because over three quarters of malaria deaths occur in under-five-year olds.
Findings from the World Health Organisation, WHO, pilot studyin Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, showed that the pioneering vaccine caused a significant reduction in severe malaria and hospitalisation among vaccinated children.
Disclosing the development, John Bawa, Africa lead for vaccine implementation at Programme for Appropriate Technology in Health, PATH, the findings pave the way for an expanded distribution scheme that will see countries like Mozambique, Nigeria and Zambia receive the vaccines.
Bawa who spoke during a webinar to commemorate the 2022 World Malaria Day, noted: “The next is to deploy the vaccine to other endemic countries. Countries that are interested in the vaccine are expected to apply to GAVI from June to September.”
At the webinar organised by the African Media and Malaria Research Network (AMMREN), PATH and Kintampo Health Research Centre (KHRC), Bawa said Nigeria, Mozambique, Uganda, and Zambia have written officially to express interest for the vaccine.
He said malaria vaccine coverage in Malawi was at 88 per cent in 2020 and 93 per cent in 2021. In Ghana, it was 71 per cent in 2020 and 76 per cent in 2021 and in Kenya, it was 69 per cent in 2020 and 83 per cent in 2021.
“These numbers indicate strong community demand and capacity of childhood vaccination platforms to effectively deliver the vaccine to children,” said Bawa.
These vaccines were distributed in a pilot scheme organised by WHO. The organisation has now recommended the vaccine for use among children in areas with moderate to high transmission rate of malaria.
“For some countries, Gavi is paying about 80 per cent of the cost of the vaccine, while it is expected that the country’s government would pay the remaining 20 per cent,” Bawa said.
Wellington Oyibo, the Director of the Centre for Malaria Diagnosis, Research, Capacity Building and Policy, University of Lagos, said the Nigerian government and the Prince Ned Nwoko Foundation Malaria Eradication Project have applied to purchase the vaccine for Nigeria.
Oyibo said while the initial rollout of the vaccine may not go around the country, the Nigerian government selected states with the highest malaria burden to begin with.
He said African leaders should ensure that their counterpart funds are available to purchase the vaccine.
In his own view, the WHO Director-General, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “This vaccine is not just a scientific breakthrough, it is life-changing for families across Africa. It demonstrates the power of science and innovation for health.”
According to the WHO about $155.7 million has been secured from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to support the introduction, procurement and delivery of the malaria vaccine for Gavi-eligible countries in sub-Saharan Africa.
To boost the vaccine supply and coverage, GlaxoSmithKline, producers of the RTS,S vaccine, will transfer technology and patent to Bharat Biotech in India to manufacture the vaccines.
The funding would help support the introduction, procurement and delivery of the vaccine for Gavi-eligible countries in sub-Saharan Africa in 2022-2025.
Malaria kills more than 400,000 people a year, mostly African children.