NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 14 – The Ministry of Health has called for enhanced uptake of the newly rolled out RTS, S/AS01 vaccine to bolster efforts to combat malaria among children.
The ministry made a case for sustained vaccination efforts following new data that indicated slowed progress in containing malaria particularly during the coronavirus pandemic.
Despite the proportion of people affected by malaria declining from 8 per cent to 5.6 per cent nationally between 2015 and 2020, the burden of the disease remains high in some parts of Kenya.
In 2016, malaria caused an estimated 3.5 million infections and just over 10,000 deaths in Kenya, stretching the capacity of health facilities in provision of services, especially in Lake Endemic Regions.
Global efforts to eradicate malaria intensified over the years leading to the launch of the first Malaria Vaccine on October 6, with projections showing it could save tens of thousands of children each year.
The new malaria vaccination exercise is currently being undertaken in eight counties, with the Ministry of Health indicating consultations were ongoing to expand the use of the vaccine.
“One such tool is the malaria vaccine which is a product of over 30 years of research. The RTS, S/AS01 (or RTS,S) is the first and only Malaria vaccine in routine use and it is already available in some regions in Kenya,” Health Cabinet Secretary Mutahi Kagwe said.
Eight counties and 26 sub-counties in the malaria-endemic areas (Kisumu, Homabay, Migori, Siaya, Kakamega, Bungoma, Vihiga and Bungoma) have been administering the vaccine as part of routine childhood immunization.
Ndhiwa sub-county of Homabay County was the first to administer the vaccine as a routine childhood immunization.
Since the vaccine pilot implementation programme began, more than 200,000 children have received at least one dose through this effort.
Meanwhile, following a review of malaria vaccine data generated from the pilot and other RTS,S evidence, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended wider use of the vaccine across sub-Saharan Africa and other regions.
“We have not experienced any hesitancy with this vaccine. We acknowledge that parents, caregivers and health care professionals have embraced malaria vaccination. We believe this has contributed to the increased demand and uptake of the vaccine,” the CS noted.
“Importantly, the malaria vaccine has been particularly valuable in reaching children whose families may not have access to other interventions, such as insecticide-treated bed nets.”
Kagwe further assured of the safety of the malaria vaccine.
“Through the pilots, we have confirmed that the vaccine is safe, significantly reduces severe, life-threatening malaria and can be delivered successfully in real-life childhood vaccination settings (even during a pandemic).”
Other strategies adopted, include the use of bed nets, indoor residual spraying and targeting mosquito larvae.
The health ministry is also focused on preventing malaria during pregnancy, expanding access to testing and treatment, and promoting social and behavior change to reduce infection risks.
Kenya had the privilege of participating in the landmark malaria vaccine pilot implementation programme that also involved Ghana and Malawi.
The first malaria vaccine made by GlaxoSmithKline is said to rouse a child’s immune system to thwart Plasmodium falciparum, the deadliest of five malaria pathogens and the most prevalent in Africa.