Twelve countries across different regions in Africa are set to receive 18 million doses of the first-ever RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine from 2023 to 2025.
This was disclosed in a joint press statement by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the World Health Organisation, and the United Nations Children’s Fund made available to our correspondent on Wednesday.
The RTS,S/AS01 vaccine is the first vaccine recommended for use by the World Health Organisation to prevent malaria in children in areas of moderate to high malaria transmission.
“Since 2019, Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi have been delivering the malaria vaccine through the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme, coordinated by WHO and funded by Gavi, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and Unitaid.
“The RTS,S/AS01 vaccine has been administered to more than 1.7 million children in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi since 2019 and has been shown to be safe and effective, resulting in a substantial reduction in severe malaria and a fall in child deaths. At least 28 African countries have expressed interest in receiving the malaria vaccine.
“In addition to Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi, the initial 18 million dose allocation will enable nine more countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Uganda, to introduce the vaccine into their routine immunisation programmes for the first time,” the statement read in part.
The first doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive in countries during the last quarter of 2023, with countries starting to roll them out by early 2024.
It stated that this allocation round makes use of the supply of vaccine doses available to Gavi through UNICEF.
The statement noted that the allocations have been determined through the application of the principles outlined in the framework for allocation of limited malaria vaccine supply that prioritises those doses to areas of highest need, where the risk of malaria illness and death among children are highest.
“This vaccine has the potential to be very impactful in the fight against malaria, and when broadly deployed alongside other interventions, it can prevent tens of thousands of future deaths every year,” said the Managing Director of Country Programmes Delivery at Gavi, Thabani Maphosa.
“While we work with manufacturers to help ramp up supply, we need to make sure the doses that we do have are used as effectively as possible, which means applying all the learnings from our pilot programmes as we broaden out to a new total of 12 countries,” Maphosa added.
Malaria remains one of Africa’s deadliest diseases, killing nearly half a million children each year under the age of five, and accounting for approximately 95 per cent of global malaria cases and 96 per cent of deaths in 2021.
“Nearly every minute, a child under five years old dies of malaria,” said UNICEF Associate Director of Immunisation, Ephrem Lemango. “For a long time, these deaths have been preventable and treatable; but the roll-out of this vaccine will give children, especially in Africa, an even better chance at surviving. As supply increases, we hope even more children can benefit from this life-saving advancement.”
The WHO Director of Immunisation, Vaccines and Biologicals, Dr Kate O’Brien, said the malaria vaccine was a breakthrough to improve child health and child survival; and families and communities.
“This first allocation of malaria vaccine doses are prioritised for children at the highest risk of dying of malaria. The high demand for the vaccine and the strong reach of childhood immunisation will increase equity in access to malaria prevention and save many young lives. We will work tirelessly to increase supply until all children at risk have access,” O’Brien said.