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WHO, UNICEF  To Administer 18 Million Doses Of Malaria Vaccine To 12 African Countries

Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the DRC, Liberia, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Uganda have now joined Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi.

Over the following two years, the first-ever malaria vaccine will be administered to 18 million people in twelve different African nations and regions. The launch represents a significant advancement in the fight against one of the continent’s top causes of death.

In a joint press release by WHO, UNICEF and The Gavi Vaccination Alliance titled, “18 million doses of first-ever malaria vaccine allocated to 12 African countries for 2023–2025: Gavi, WHO and UNICEF”, the organization stated that the doses have been prioritised to regions with the greatest need, where the risk of malaria sickness and mortality among children is highest, using the guidelines established in the Framework for distribution of restricted malaria vaccine supplies.

The statement read, “Since 2019, Ghana, Kenya and Malawi have been delivering the malaria vaccine through the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (MVIP), coordinated by WHO and funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and Unitaid. The RTS,S/AS01 vaccine has been administered to more than 1.7 million children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi since 2019 and has been shown to be safe and effective, resulting in a substantial reduction in severe malaria and a fall in child deaths. At least 28 African countries have expressed interest in receiving the malaria vaccine.

In addition to Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, the initial 18 million dose allocation will enable nine more countries, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Niger, Sierra Leone and Uganda, to introduce the vaccine into their routine immunisation programmes for the first time. This allocation round makes use of the supply of vaccine doses available to Gavi, Vaccine Alliance via UNICEF. The first doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive in countries during the last quarter of 2023, with countries starting to roll them out by early 2024.

“This vaccine has the potential to be very impactful in the fight against malaria, and when broadly deployed alongside other interventions, it can prevent tens of thousands of future deaths every year,” said Thabani Maphosa, Managing Director of Country Programmes Delivery at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “While we work with manufacturers to help ramp up supply, we need to make sure the doses that we do have are used as effectively as possible, which means applying all the learnings from our pilot programmes as we broaden out to a new total of 12 countries.”

Malaria remains one of Africa’s deadliest diseases, killing nearly half a million children each year under the age of 5, and accounting for approximately 95% of global malaria cases and 96% of deaths in 2021.

“Nearly every minute, a child under 5 years old dies of malaria,” said UNICEF Associate Director of Immunization Ephrem T Lemango. “For a long time, these deaths have been preventable and treatable; but the roll-out of this vaccine will give children, especially in Africa, an even better chance at surviving. As supply increases, we hope even more children can benefit from this life-saving advancement.”

“The malaria vaccine is a breakthrough to improve child health and child survival; and families and communities, rightly, want this vaccine for their children. This first allocation of malaria vaccine doses is prioritised for children at highest risk of dying of malaria,” said Dr Kate O’Brien, WHO Director of Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals. “The high demand for the vaccine and the strong reach of childhood immunisation will increase equity in access to malaria prevention and save many young lives. We will work tirelessly to increase supply until all children at risk have access.”

The Plasmodium falciparum parasite, which causes the worst cases of malaria worldwide and is most common in Africa, is the target of the vaccine RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S). The vaccine was suggested by the WHO for a trial programme in a few regions of three African nations in January 2016. The WHO-recommended core set of preventative, diagnostic, and treatment strategies is being supplemented (not replaced) by RTS,S, which is being studied for potential use as a supplemental malaria control strategy.

The Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunisation (SAGE) and the Malaria Policy Advisory Group (MPAG), two independent WHO advisory groups, jointly called for the implementation of the vaccine as a pilot programme in three to five settings in sub-Saharan Africa in October 2015 following a thorough analysis of the Phase 3 trial results.

In a position paper released on January 29, 2016, WHO formally adopted the joint advice of SAGE and MPAG. By doing so, the Organisation acknowledged the RTS,S vaccine’s potential for improving public health while also recognising the need for additional research before considering its widespread use. Beyond the trial initiative, there is presently no WHO policy recommendation for the widespread use of the RTS,S malaria vaccine. 

Still in the document, it was stated that “The Framework implementation group that applied the framework principles included representatives of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), UNICEF, WHO and the Gavi Secretariat, as well as representatives of civil society and independent advisors. The group’s recommendations were reviewed and endorsed by the Senior Leadership Endorsement Group of Gavi, WHO and UNICEF (for more, see First malaria vaccine supply allocations: explanation of process and outcomes).

Annual global demand for malaria vaccines is estimated at 40–60 million doses by 2026 alone, growing to 80–100 million doses each year by 2030. In addition to the RTS,S/AS01 vaccine, developed and produced by GSK, and in the future supplied by Bharat Biotech, it is expected that a second vaccine, R21/Matrix-M, developed by Oxford University and manufactured by Serum Institute of India (SII), could also be prequalified by WHO soon. Gavi has recently outlined its roadmap to support increasing supply to meet demand.”

A public-private cooperation called Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, aids in immunising half of the world’s children against some of the worst illnesses. The World Health Organisation, UNICEF, the World Bank, the World Bank, the World Bank, the vaccine industry, technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and other private sector partners are all represented in the Vaccine Alliance.

Glamour Adah

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