Malawi’s health ministry says it will soon roll out Africa’s first malaria vaccine for children under age five.
The RTS,S vaccine, which was tested in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi, took more than 30 years to develop. While the vaccine has a relatively low level of effectiveness, it has raised hopes of saving some of the more than 400,000 people who die annually from the mosquito-borne disease, most of them African children.
The vaccine roll out, scheduled for next month, follows the completion of the pilot phase. Since 2019, the World Health Organization has vaccinated 360,000 children per year in Malawi, Ghana, and Kenya, one-third of them in Malawi.
Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda, Malawi’s minister of health, said children are especially at risk of malaria during the rainy season, in the months of November and December.
Chiponda said the decision on the vaccine was reached following discussions between Malawian President Lazarus Chakwera and representatives of PATH, a global health nonprofit organization when Chakwera attended this year’s U.N. General Assembly meeting in New York.
The WHO endorsed the vaccine years ago, saying it was a breakthrough in the fight against malaria.
However, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, backers of the vaccine, have raised concerns about whether the vaccine is worth the cost.
In July, The Associated Press quoted Philip Welkhoff, director of malaria programs for the Gates Foundation, as saying the foundation will no longer offer direct financial support for the shot, although it will fund an alliance backing the vaccine.
He said the malaria vaccine has much lower efficacy than the foundation would like and that the shot is relatively expensive and logistically challenging to deliver.
However, Maziko Matemba, health activist and community health ambassador in Malawi, is not discouraged.
“Now that finally the malaria vaccines will be launched in Malawi is welcome news, and we hope that the under-five [age group] will be protected because according to statistics, Malaria is so endemic in the under-five [age group] and we are adding a package in the prevention of malaria,” Matemba said.
Matemba said the 30% efficacy is nothing to worry about, as not all vaccines are 100% effective.
“When we had [the] COVID vaccine it was not 100%. It was at 70% or so. So it’s the same case with this,” Matemba said.
Statistics show that malaria is the number one deadly disease in Malawi. The disease accounts for 36% of all hospital outpatients and 15% of hospital admissions.
Despite its relatively low effectiveness rate, some scientists say the vaccine will have a major impact against malaria in Africa, which records 200 million cases and 400,000 deaths per year.