On Monday, the first ever malaria vaccine was introduced in Cameroon, marking a significant milestone in Africa’s public health progress.
The RTS,S vaccine will be given to children in a west African nation, making it the first country to receive the vaccine after successful testing in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi from 2019 to 2021. A total of 662,000 doses will be administered.
This represents an increase in efforts to combat malaria in Africa, where 95% of fatalities from the illness take place, with the majority affecting children under the age of five.
Dr. Mohammed Abdulaziz, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in Ethiopia, stated during a virtual briefing with the World Health Organization that we are not only observing, but actively involved in a significant moment in Africa’s public health history. He expressed that this day has been long awaited and brings more than just hope, but also a decrease in the mortality and morbidity caused by malaria.
Experts in public health stress the importance of effectively communicating with the general population for the success of the vaccine. This includes building trust, encouraging parents to bring their children for all four doses, and educating individuals on the effectiveness of combining the vaccine with other measures, like using insecticide-treated bed nets while sleeping.
Abdulaziz emphasized the importance of messaging, communication, and relying on trusted individuals. He stressed the need for utilizing healthcare workers who have strong ties to the community. Listening to the community’s feedback and monitoring their reception is crucial.
Kate O’Brien, the head of the World Health Organization’s department for immunizations and vaccines, stated that the trial results indicate that RTS,S (also known as Mosquirix) could potentially save tens of thousands of lives.
Nineteen additional African nations are aiming to implement the vaccine in the current year, with the goal of reaching 6.6 million children. Deliveries are scheduled for Burkina Faso, Liberia, Niger, and Sierra Leone.
Mbianke Livancliff, representing the non-governmental organization Value Health Africa in Cameroon, expressed that there has been a sense of enthusiasm in the country since the arrival of the vaccines in November. The organization has held community gatherings and open forums to familiarize individuals with the vaccine and its approval procedure, addressing any concerns and preventing any potential hesitancy.
Livancliff expressed that it was a thrilling moment. The families were overjoyed and pleased with this significant progress, stating that it is effective and exactly what they have been anticipating.
On Monday morning at Angels Clinic, a private facility in Douala, Cameroon, six-month-old Nobah Adel cried out in pain as she received her first vaccine dose and was pricked by the needle.
Dani Widal, the mother of three children who are prone to malaria, expressed her happiness despite her daughter’s tears. She learned about the vaccine campaign a week ago and hopes that it will provide her daughter with the same relief as her other two children.
Widal and her daughter waited in line for three hours to receive the vaccine. She resides in a mosquito-infested area and spends over 30,000 francs (equivalent to £39) every three months due to malaria.
According to Kamela Isabelle Madjouwou, a nurse working at the center, a malaria vaccine is crucial. In 2022, Cameroon reported over 6 million cases and malaria was responsible for 12% of deaths in children under five in 2021. Madjouwou believes that the vaccine will decrease mortality rates and alleviate the impact of this dreadful illness.
Thomas Breuer, the main global health executive at GlaxoSmithKline, the company responsible for creating the vaccine, expressed that this was a noteworthy advancement: “Following over three decades of dedicated collaboration with our partners, we have successfully developed the first ever malaria vaccine, Mosquirix. It is truly gratifying to see it being used in regular practice for the first time. We eagerly anticipate the introduction of the vaccine in more countries affected by malaria in the upcoming months.”
Later this year, the University of Oxford plans to release R21/Matrix-M, a second vaccine for malaria.