Malaria vaccine biggest medical breakthrough
OPINION | By Patrick Amoth | October 16th 2021
The world is celebrating the endorsement of the Malaria vaccine, which will go down as one of the greatest breakthroughs in medical industry. The vaccine is a product of 30 years of collaborative research.
This is great news especially for sub-Sahara Africa, which bears the heaviest brunt of malaria, in terms of deaths, healthcare costs of prevention and cure. The vaccine will help mitigate against these challenges and relieve our stretched healthcare systems.
Of course, the benefits go beyond financial savings. We are looking at a future where our children will not have to face the risk of severe malaria disease and deaths. This calls for celebration and acknowledging the role of Ministry of Health, World Health Organisation (WHO), PATH, Unicef, among various partners and the vaccine manufacturer.
My expectation is that this vaccine will motivate more researchers to continue their efforts for more vaccines for other diseases. We have learned from the Covid-19 vaccines that more is better, and the successful testing and introduction of the malaria vaccine gives us hope that we will win the war.
Malaria parasite is spread by mosquitoes with 67 per cent of victims being infants and babies. Every year, over 200 million people contract the disease globally. Africa bears the heaviest burden, with 260,000 children dead in 2019 alone according to WHO. In Kenya, we register at least 3.5 million cases of malaria annually, and 10,700 deaths, with Western region the most affected.
The vaccine, RTS,S comes at an opportune time to push the fight against malaria to the next stage. In the piloting of the vaccine in Africa, Kenya, Ghana and Malawi were selected. In the three countries, 800,000 children have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 2.3 million doses have been administered. The vaccine promises to be one of the best tools to fight malaria.
In Kenya, more than 200,000 children have received at least one of the doses. It helps that there is a demand for the vaccine from the community. The Ministry of Health is up to the task to make malaria immunisation part of the childhood vaccinations programmes, courtesy of the strong vaccinations platforms already built by government.
So far, the vaccine has shown that it can reduce severe malaria cases. This will reduce hospital admissions and the need for blood transfusions that burden our healthcare systems.
-Dr Amoth is Director-General for Health at the Ministry of Health
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