Cameroon has become the first country to roll out a routine vaccine program to combat malaria in what could save the lives of thousands of children across Africa.
The country is offering the RTS,S malaria vaccine free of charge as part its regular childhood immunization program.
The rollout follows successful trials in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi, and is a step forward in the fight against the deadly disease that disproportionately affects children under five.
Since 2019, the three countries have administered the RTS,S vaccine in a pilot program, reaching over 2 million children amid a 13% drop in all-cause mortality and significant reductions in severe malaria illness and hospitalizations.
The GlaxoSmithKline-produced shot, administered in four doses, achieves an efficacy of around 30% against the illness.
Nine African nations apart from Cameroon, including Benin, Burkina Faso, and Liberia, are poised to launch the vaccine this year.
The vaccine, which has been 35 years in the making, is called Mosquirix and will be administered across 42 health districts in all 10 regions of Cameroon, reaching children at public and private healthcare facilities.
This initial rollout builds on the 331,200 doses delivered to the country in November, with additional shipments expected in the coming weeks.
The Cameroonian minister of public health, Dr Manaouda Malachie, took to Twitter to share the news.
“This is historic for our continent! Cameroon has done it: the Malaria vaccine was officially launched today in Yaoundé, after a 3-year pilot phase in 3 African countries. This additional means of combating this disease will prevent more than 2,000 deaths per year,” he said.
This is historic for our continent! Cameroon has done it: the Malaria vaccine was officially launched today in Yaoundé, after a 3-year pilot phase in 3 African countries. This additional means of combating this disease will prevent more than 2,000 deaths per year. pic.twitter.com/sHEGEXPz5J
Malaria remains a persistent public health threat in Africa, claiming countless lives each year. Back in 2022, Africa accounted for about 94% of the global malaria cases and 95% of related deaths.
While the RTS,S vaccine’s effectiveness is not absolute, it offers crucial protection against severe malaria and death, especially for young children who are afflicted by the disease.
Helene, a 32-year-old mother of six, whose twin children were the first to receive the malaria vaccine in Cameroon, said that she chose to vaccinate her children because she has seen just how harmful malaria can be, and is committed to ensuring that all four doses of the vaccine are administered to her children.
“I’ll take other steps like making sure they sleep under mosquito nets,” she said.
“I chose to vaccinate my twins because I’ve seen how harmful malaria can be. I’m committed to ensuring that my children get all 4 doses of the vaccine, and I’ll take other steps like making sure they sleep under mosquito nets.”-Hélène, 32 years old mother of six, including twins. pic.twitter.com/NljEQlmniR
Integrating the vaccine into existing immunization programs alongside established tools such as mosquito nets and bed nets strengthens the continent’s defense against the disease.
Recognizing the crucial role of preparation for effective vaccine introduction, the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners including GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF, Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Clinton Health Access Initiative provided support to the national health authorities.
In October, WHO had approved the R21/Matrix-M malaria vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and the Serum Institute of India (SII) for a global rollout after a successful one-year trial in Ghana, Nigeria, and Burkina Faso.
The vaccine showed a 75% efficacy over 12 months in areas with pronounced seasonal malaria transmission and 68% efficacy in regions with more continuous transmission when administered according to standard age-based protocols, SII had shared.
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