WHO commends malaria vaccine roll-out in three more African countries


The World Health Organisation (WHO) says the Republic of Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone have launched a large-scale rollout of the life-saving malaria vaccine targeting millions of children across the three West African nations.

WHO said this in a statement as the world celebrates the 17th World Malaria Day with the theme: “Advancing health equity, gender equality and human rights,”.

The world health body said that the vaccine rollout, announced on World Malaria Day, seeks to further scale up vaccine deployment in the African region.

“Today’s launch brings to eight the number of countries on the continent to offer the malaria vaccine as part of the childhood immunisation programmes, extending access to more comprehensive malaria prevention.

“Several of the more than 30 countries in the African region that have expressed interest in the vaccine are scheduled to roll it out in 2025.

“This is through support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, as efforts continue to widen its deployment in the region in coordination with other prevention measures such as long-lasting insecticidal nets and seasonal malaria chemoprevention,” it said.

According to it, Benin, which received 215,900 doses, has added the malaria vaccine to its Expanded Programme on Immunisation.

It said that the malaria vaccine should be provided in a schedule of four doses in children from around five months of age.

“The introduction of the malaria vaccine in the Expanded Programme on Immunisation for our children is a major step forward in the fight against this scourge.

The minister of health of Benin, Mr Benjamin Hounkpatin, reassured that the malaria vaccines are safe and effective and contribute to the protection of the children.

Hounkpatin said that in Benin, the vaccine was launched in the southern Rivercess County and would be rolled out afterwards in five other counties which have high malaria burden.

“At least 45,000 children are expected to benefit from the 112,000 doses of the available vaccine,” he said.

Also, Liberia’s minister of health, Ms Louise Kpoto, said for far too long, malaria has stolen the laughter and dreams of their children.

“But today, with this vaccine and the unwavering commitment of our communities, healthcare workers and our partners, including GAVI, UNICEF and WHO, we break the chain.

“We have a powerful tool that will protect them from this devastating illness and related deaths, ensuring their right to health and a brighter future.

“Let’s end malaria in Liberia and pave the way for a healthier, more just society,” Kpoto said.

According to her, two safe and effective vaccines RTS,S and R21, recommended by WHO, are a breakthrough for child health and malaria control.

She said that a pilot malaria vaccine programme in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi reached over two million children from 2019 to 2023.

According to her, they show a significant reduction in malaria illness, a 13 per cent drop in overall child mortality and substantial reductions in hospitalisations.

Also, the minister of health of Sierra Leone, Mr Austin Demby, said that in Sierra Leone, the first doses were administered to children at a health centre in Western Area Rural where the authorities kicked off the rollout of 550,000 vaccine doses.

“The vaccine will then be delivered to health facilities nationwide.

“With the new, safe and efficacious malaria vaccine, we now have an additional tool to fight this disease. In combination with insecticide-treated nets, effective diagnosis and treatment, and indoor spraying, no child should die from malaria infection,” Demby said.

According to him, malaria remains a huge health challenge in the African region, which is home to 11 countries that carry approximately 70 per cent of the global burden of malaria.

“The region accounted for 94 per cent of global malaria cases and 95 per cent of all malaria deaths in 2022, according to the World Malaria Report 2023,” he said.

The WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Matshidiso Moeti, said that the African region was advancing in the rollout of the malaria vaccine, a game-changer in the fight against the deadly disease.

“Working with our member states and partners, we’re supporting the ongoing efforts to save the lives of young children and lower the malaria burden in the region,” she said.

The chief programme officer at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, Ms Aurelia Nguyen, said: “Today we celebrate more children gaining access to a new lifesaving tool to fight one of Africa’s deadliest diseases.”

“This introduction of malaria vaccines into routine programmes in Benin, Liberia, and Sierra Leone alongside other proven interventions will help save lives and offer relief to families, communities and hard-pressed health systems,” she said.

Nguyen said that progress against malaria has stalled in these high-burden African countries since 2017 due to factors including climate change, humanitarian crises, low access to and insufficient quality of health services, gender-related barriers, biological threats such as insecticide and drug resistance and global economic crises.

She said other factors such as fragile health systems and critical gaps in data and surveillance have compounded the challenge.