WHO backs GAVI’s decision on malaria vaccine support for African countries

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Amarachi Okeh

The World Health Organisation has backed GAVI – the Vaccine Alliance on its decision to provide funding support to African countries to roll out malaria vaccines.

The WHO’s backing was coming on the heels of the announcement by GAVI that African countries should apply for financial support to roll out the malaria jab.

GAVI opens its first application window of support for African countries to roll out malaria vaccines on Wednesday.

The support is to enable African countries to apply for funding to introduce, or further roll-out, the RTS, S/AS01 (RTS,S) malaria vaccine.

GAVI says it intends to provide financial support to African countries for the rolling out of the malaria vaccine.

This funding, the WHO said, is aimed at increasing access to the malaria vaccine to children who are at high risk of severe disease and death from malaria starting with the three African pilot countries: Ghana, Kenya and Malawi before expanding to other eligible endemic countries.

The funding worth almost US$ 160m is scheduled to run from 2022 to 2025, according to a press statement released by the WHO Africa on Wednesday.

Recall that the malaria vaccine was first released in 2019 in three pilot African countries. Since the vaccine was released, about 1.3 million children have benefitted from it.

Malaria has remained a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. 

In 2020, nearly half a million African children died from malaria – or 1 child died of malaria every minute, according to WHO.

WHO said since the malaria vaccine was introduced in 2019, the demand has been high with the first dose reaching between 73 per cent to 90 per cent coverage.

The funding opportunity by GAVI brings Africa one step closer to reaching millions of children with the lifesaving malaria vaccine, WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti said.

Moeti stated that throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, when routine health services faced myriad challenges, parents and caregivers diligently brought their children to clinics and health posts to get the malaria vaccine.

“They know all too well that lives are being lost to malaria every day and are eager to protect their children from this deadly disease,” she said.

The global health agency in its statement disclosed that “following WHO’s recommendation in October 2021 for widespread use of the RTS,S malaria vaccine among children in regions with moderate to high Plasmodium falciparum malaria transmission, a number of malaria-endemic countries have expressed interest in adopting the vaccine and are expected to apply for Gavi support to introduce the vaccine.

“The RTS,S vaccine works specifically against Plasmodium falciparum, which is the deadliest malaria parasite and the most prevalent on the African continent.

“Where the vaccine has been introduced, there has been a substantial drop in children being hospitalised with severe malaria and a drop in child deaths in the age group that is eligible for the vaccine.”

The Managing Director of Country Programmes at Gavi, Thabani Maphosa said that malaria has had a devastating effect on African communities for far too long, adding that GAVI is proud to help curb the disease.

“GAVI is proud to support this vaccine, and we hope this is just the beginning of a broader rollout that will see populations across the continent increasingly protected against this deadly disease,” he added.

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