CAMEROON—Cameroon has initiated a vaccination campaign following a successful pilot program, making it the first country to do so outside the malaria vaccine trial program that was carried out in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi.
The announcement comes as efforts to increase vaccination against the disease in Africa’s high-risk areas accelerate.
This vaccine will be administered in 42 health districts to protect the country’s most vulnerable children, who have the highest transmission and fatality rates commencing Monday, January 22, 2024.
Cameroon got 331, 200 vaccine doses on November 22, 2023, with additional doses expected in the next weeks.
Malaria kills more than 500,000 children under the age of five in Africa alone each year, according to Aurélia Nguyen, Chief Programme Officer at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and this historic agreement will provide a new instrument in the fight against the illness.
Cameroon will be the first country in the world to begin routine malaria immunization with the launch of this campaign.
By including the RTS, S malaria vaccine in its routine immunization program, Cameroon will be able to address a pressing public health issue using a new tool that has not been available before, despite decades of trials conducted by pharmaceutical companies and governments across Africa and around the world.
Cameroon’s objective is to vaccinate half a million children with the malaria vaccine in 2024 and 2025, with approximately 250,000 children vaccinated each year.
The country’s selected health districts are expected to give the most vulnerable children the opportunity to be protected against the disease as they have the highest transmission and mortality rates.
Malaria diagnoses and deaths in Cameroon have increased since 2017, with malaria accounting for almost 30% of all hospital visits, according to Nguyen. This vaccine will save lives and bring tremendous relief to families and the country’s healthcare system.
Dr Shalom Ndoula, Permanent Secretary of Cameroon’s Expanded Programme on Immunization, stated that a vaccine is an additional tool for malaria control and that the country chose it based on its pre-qualification.
This ensures guaranteed quality, efficacy, and safety for inclusion in the vaccination programme and it will specifically target all children aged six months as of December 31, 2023.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners, including GAVI, the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF, the Africa Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Clinton Health Access Initiative, worked with national health authorities to strengthen key vaccine introduction measures ahead of the launch.
To ensure an effective vaccine introduction, governments must make extensive preparations, including drafting national vaccination policies and guidelines and integrating the new vaccine into the delivery schedule of other vaccines and healthcare measures.
Other preparations include developing an operational rollout plan, training healthcare workers, investing in infrastructure, technical capacity, vaccine storage, community engagement, and demand generation, as well as providing formative supervision, monitoring, and evaluation of the process to ensure quality vaccine delivery.
Dr. Phanuel Habimana, WHO Representative in Cameroon, stated that the launch of the malaria vaccine represents a huge step forward in disease prevention and control, particularly in preventing children from severe sickness and death.
He went on to stress WHO’s commitment to assisting national health authorities in ensuring efficient deployment of the malaria vaccine, as well as the scaling up of other malaria control measures.
Cameroon is one of the 11 countries most impacted by malaria worldwide, with over 3 million cases and over 3800 deaths in 2021.
With an emphasis on preventing malaria, the county has placed priority on malaria control in its National Health Development Plan.
Malaria vaccinations can be effective in reducing cases, hospitalizations, and fatalities, particularly when combined with existing malaria control treatments.
Since 2000, coordinated efforts to reduce mortality through various treatments, such as the use of insecticide-treated nets (ITNs), have helped decrease the overall number by one-third.
“As we look to the future, malaria is one of the diseases that will be impacted by climate change, so the world must do everything it can to expand access to available tools,” Gavi officials urged governments.
Gavi is a co-convener of COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, together with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), the World Health Organization and UNICEF.
“In total, 20 African countries will aim to reach approximately 6.6 million children with the malaria vaccine through 2024 and 2025,” the Gavi officials told media assets.
As part of the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (MVIP), Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi have been administering the RTS, S vaccine in a four-dose schedule to children as young as 5 months old in selected regions since 2019.
More than 2 million children in three African nations have received the malaria vaccine through MVIP, amounting to over 8 million doses.
This has led to a remarkable 13% decrease in all-cause mortality among eligible children, as well as significant reductions in severe malaria disease and hospitalizations.
Nine African countries plan to launch the malaria vaccine this year. In addition to Cameroon, Benin, Burkina Faso, and Liberia have received vaccines and are completing vaccine implementation plans.
WHO, Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, UNICEF, and other partners are working closely with African nations to introduce the malaria vaccine to ensure its delivery and successful rollout.
The African continent has the highest malaria burden, accounting for over 94% of worldwide malaria infections and 95% of related fatalities in 2022.