Covid vaccine or Malaria vaccine? Africa needs both
After a 100-year search, the world at last has developed a vaccine for Malaria, a disease that affects over 229 million people every year, especially in India and much of Africa.
Africans in the diaspora will be excited at this great news.
Malaria has been one of the biggest scourges on humanity for millennia and mostly kills babies and infants.
Having a vaccine – after more than a century of trying – is among medicine’s greatest achievements.
The vaccine – called RTS,S – was proven effective six years ago.
Now, after the success of pilot immunisation programmes in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, the World Health Organization says the vaccine should be rolled out across sub-Saharan Africa and in other regions with moderate to high malaria transmission.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO, said it was “a historic moment. The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control.”
Using the vaccine on top of existing tools “could save tens of thousands of young lives each year”, he said.
Malaria: the children’s killer
There are over 400,000 cases of Malaria every year, and mostly children. Malaria is a parasite that invades and destroys our blood cells in order to reproduce and it’s spread by the bite of blood-sucking mosquitoes.
Drugs to kill the parasite, bed nets to prevent bites and insecticides to kill the mosquito have all helped reduce malaria.
However, there are still around 230 million cases and 400,000 deaths a year – and around 95% of the burden of malaria is felt in Africa, where more than 260,000 children died from the disease in 2019.
It takes years of being repeatedly infected to build up immunity and even this only reduces the chances of becoming severely ill.
Dr Kwame Amponsa-Achiano has been piloting the vaccine in Ghana to assess whether mass vaccination was feasible and effective. “It is quite an exciting moment for us, with large-scale vaccination I believe the malaria toll will be reduced to the barest minimum,” he said.
Victory at last.
Trials, reported in 2015, had shown the vaccine could prevent around four in 10 cases of malaria, three in 10 severe cases and lead to the number of children needing blood transfusions falling by a third.
However, there were doubts the vaccine would work in the real world as it requires four doses to be effective. The first three are given a month apart at five, six and seven months old, and a final booster is needed at around 18 months.
The results, from more than 2.3 million doses, showed:
■ the vaccine was safe and still led to a 30% reduction in severe malaria
■ it reached more than two-thirds of children who don’t have a bed net to sleep under
■ there was no negative impact on other routine vaccines or other measures to prevent malaria
■ the vaccine was cost-effective
“From a scientific perspective, this is a massive breakthrough, from a public health perspective this is a historical feat,” said Dr Pedro Alonso, the director of the WHO Global Malaria Programme.
“We’ve been looking for a malaria vaccine for over 100 years now, it will save lives and prevent disease in African children.”
The vaccine is ready to be rolled out. But with all the political and infrastructure challenges in Africa, there could be delays in getting the vaccine into the arms of where they are needed most.
Hopefully, it would not be another 100-year wait.