Preparations are underway to launch the world’s first malaria vaccine on a large scale to protect millions of children in Africa.
The rollout is being funded by the Vaccine Alliance, Gavi, for approximately $160 million.
The World Health Organization said Gavi’s multimillion-dollar funding marks a significant progress in the fight against one of Africa’s most serious public health threats. It noted that countries in sub-Saharan Africa bear the brunt of an annual toll of more than 240 million global cases of malaria, including more than 600,000 deaths. The main victims are children under the age of 5.
Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa, said a child dies every minute in Africa, with devastating consequences for families, communities and national development.
This vaccine was introduced in Africa in 2019. Since then, more than 1.3 million children have benefited from life-saving vaccinations in the three pilot countries – Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. Moeti said those countries also reported a 30 percent reduction in hospitalizations of children with severe malaria and a 9% reduction in child deaths.
“If distributed on a large scale, millions of new cases could be avoided and thousands of lives could be saved every year,” Moeti said. “We were encouraged to see that the demand for the vaccine is high, even in the context of COVID-19, with the first dose being between 73% and over 90% coverage.”
Thabani Maphosa, managing director of country programs at Gavi, described the vaccine as the most effective tool in the fight against malaria, which will save children’s lives. However, he said, the demand for the life-saving product will outweigh the supply.
“Our challenge during this critical phase is to ensure that the doses available to us are used as effectively and equitably as possible,” Maphosa said. “With that in mind, Gavi is opening an application window for malaria support today.”
He added that the three pilot countries, which already have experience in rolling out the vaccine, will have the first success in applying for and receiving funding. So, practically speaking, Maphosa said, they’ll need very little help setting up their systems to get the operation going.
Maphosa said the second round of funding would take place at the end of the year. At the time, he said other countries with moderate to high cases of severe malaria could submit applications for support.