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Malaria vaccine trials scaled up in disease-prone eight counties

The vaccine has increased access to malaria prevention. [iStockphoto]

The country is gearing up for a rollout of the landmark malaria vaccine by June to more counties prone to the disease.

The vaccine is on trial in eight counties as well as in Ghana and Malawi.

Health CAS Rashid Aman said it would be an ideal tool against the disease which kills 260,000 children under five in sub-Saharan Africa annually.

Kakamega is among the eight counties that have deployed the vaccine since 2019. The Ministry of Health will scale up the vaccine, after due advisory, in all sub-counties in Kakamega and Malaria endemic areas in Kenya, especially around the Lake region.

CAS Aman spoke during the marking of the World Malaria Day celebration in Kakamega’s Bukhungu Stadium.

“I urge all parents who have children over six months to have them vaccinated."

Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) deputy director Veronica Manduku said the government will check how the vaccine performs before a full roll-out.

The Kenya Malaria Indicator survey places Kisii, Nyamira, West Pokot, Trans Nzoia, Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Narok, Kericho, Bomet, Bungoma, Kakamega, and Elgeyo Marakwet as highland epidemic-prone zones.

Siaya, Kisumu, Migori, Homa Bay, Kakamega, Vihiga, Bungoma and Busia were classified as lake endemic zones for the disease as Mombasa, Kwale, Kilifi, Lamu, and Taita Taveta fall under the Coast endemic zones.

Vaccine alliance Gavi stated that more than 830,000 children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi were vaccinated last year after the vaccine was rolled out on a pilot project in Africa in 2019.

"The first results showed hospitalisation from severe malaria decreased by about 30 per cent," Gavi stated on its website.

The vaccine has increased access to malaria prevention, reaching more than two-thirds of children not protected by an insecticide-treated net.

The Gavi Board in December 2021 approved an investment of $155.7 million (Sh18 billion) to support the malaria vaccine introduction, procurement and delivery for Gavi-eligible countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr Aman said the country is doing well in the fight against malaria. He asked Kenyans not to backtrack on the gains made in line with reducing malaria prevalence which has declined by 50 per cent in the past decade.

He drew parallels with Cuba which eradicated the disease in 1973. He called on resilience in bringing the prevalence to zero as is the case in the southern American nation.

“We came from 11.4 per cent to 5.8 per cent nationally and 38 per cent to 19 per cent in high burden counties around Lake Victoria," Dr Aman said.

He said the country is keen on a partnership with Cuba to eradicate malaria in a Sh24 billion project that will use biological methods to control mosquito breeding by destroying mosquito eggs.

The CAS stated that his ministry had allocated an additional Sh800,000 in the present budget to deal with malaria and eliminate it by 2030.

“We need to have clear data on malaria and engage change champions, especially the youth who will educate the masses on the sickness."

The country also had a partnership with USAid which provided 1.5 million insecticide-treated nets, 40,000 malaria treatment doses, and 700,000 test kits all worth Sh600 million.

World Health Organization representative Dr Dan Otieno echoed Dr Aman’s sentiments, saying malaria could be eliminated.

Data and surveys of the disease are also key to eradicating the disease, the WHO representative said.

In 2020, there were an estimated 241 million new cases of malaria and 627,000 malaria-related deaths in 85 countries.

The organisation says more than two-thirds of deaths involved children under the age of five living in Africa.

Collins Matemba, the Kakamega Health executive, said early diagnosis is key in managing malaria and called on parents to take their sick children to the hospital.

In malaria the first symptoms usually appear within 15 days and, if malaria is treated promptly, most people make a full recovery.

However, because these early symptoms – headache, fever and chills – may be mild or confused with other illnesses, people often are not diagnosed with malaria until it is too late.

Left untreated, malaria can progress to severe illness and death within 24 hours.

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