Johannesburg, Jul 21 (PTI): The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Thursday welcomed the announcement by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, of international support worth nearly USD 160 million for the next three years to facilitate increased vaccine access to children at high risk of illness and death from malaria.
Malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa.
In 2020, nearly half a million African children died from malaria – or 1 child died of malaria every minute, WHO said in a statement after the announcement in Brazzaville in the Republic of Congo.
Since the world’s first malaria vaccine was introduced in 2019, it has been well accepted in African communities after a relatively short period of time, even during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Throughout the pandemic, when routine health services faced myriad challenges, parents and caregivers diligently brought their children to clinics and health posts to get the malaria vaccine. They know all too well that lives are being lost to malaria every day and are eager to protect their children from this deadly disease,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
WHO said vaccination performance for the first dose is reaching between 73 per cent to over 90 per cent coverage, depending on the country, with no major disruptions during the pandemic.
To date, about 1.3 million children have benefitted from the vaccine in the three African pilot countries, it added.
“Gavi’s new funding opportunity brings us one step closer to reaching millions more children across Africa with the lifesaving RTS,S malaria vaccine,” Moeti said.
Following WHO’s recommendation in October 2021 for widespread use of the RTS,S malaria vaccine among children in regions with moderate to high Plasmodium falciparum malaria transmission, a number of malaria-endemic countries have expressed interest in adopting the vaccine and are expected to apply for Gavi support to introduce the vaccine.
The RTS,S vaccine works specifically against Plasmodium falciparum, which is the deadliest malaria parasite and the most prevalent on the African continent.
Where the vaccine has been introduced, there has been a substantial drop in children being hospitalised with severe malaria and a drop in child deaths in the age group that is eligible for the vaccine.
“Malaria has devastated communities for far too long in Africa. We know that initially, supply, will not meet demand, nevertheless, we look forward to working with countries and our partners to introduce and scale this new tool in our fight against malaria, which could save the lives of thousands of children across the continent,” said Thabani Maphosa, Managing Director of Country Programmes at Gavi.
“The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control. It is projected that – at scale – using this vaccine could save tens of thousands of young lives each year, but we will need an increased supply of the vaccine so Africa can reap the benefits of this additional tool for malaria prevention,” said Professor Rose Leke, a malaria disease expert from the University of Yaounde in Cameroon, and co-chair of the expert group that advised WHO on a framework to allocate the currently limited malaria vaccine supply. PTI FH RUP RUP RUP
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