BENIN—In a crucial step toward malaria prevention in Africa, Benin, Liberia, and Sierra Leone have launched a large-scale deployment of a life-saving malaria vaccine aimed at millions of children in three West African countries.

The launch, which coincides with World Malaria Day, highlights a concerted effort to increase vaccine deployment across Africa, considerably strengthening childhood immunization programs.

 With this development, Africa now has eight nations that give the malaria vaccine as part of their immunization programs, expanding access to more comprehensive malaria preventative strategies.

Furthermore, several other African countries, among the approximately 30 that have expressed interest in the vaccine, plan to implement it within the next year with cooperation from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

This rollout complements larger initiatives to improve deployment in the region, as well as current preventive measures such as long-lasting insecticidal nets and seasonal malaria chemoprevention.

Benin has received an initial consignment of 215,900 doses of malaria vaccine for its Expanded Programme on Immunization, which will be administered in four doses to children as young as 5 months.

Speaking about this milestone, Benin’s Minister of Health, Prof. Benjamin Hounkpatin, praised the inclusion of the malaria vaccine in the immunization program as a significant step forward in battling the disease.

He reassured the public about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy, emphasizing its importance in protecting children from this severe and often fatal illness.

The vaccine deployment in Liberia has begun in Rivercess County and is expected to expand to five other counties with high malaria incidence.

Approximately 45,000 children will benefit from the 112,000 available doses.

In her speech, Liberia’s Minister of Health, Dr. Louise Kpoto, underscored the country’s commitment to protecting communities, healthcare workers, and partners such as GAVI, UNICEF, and WHO from malaria’s devastating effects.

In Sierra Leone, the immunization program began with the distribution of initial doses to children in the Western Area Rural.

This marks the start of the rollout of 550,000 vaccination doses, which will be given to health facilities around the country.

Dr. Austin Demby, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Health, endorsed the malaria vaccine’s safety and efficacy as an additional tool in the fight against the illness, emphasizing its ability to supplement existing preventive measures.

For his part, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, emphasized the importance of the malaria vaccine deployment, recognizing its transformative influence in combating the illness in the region.

He emphasized WHO’s commitment to assisting member states and partners in their efforts to reduce malaria burdens and protect the lives of young children.

Aurelia Nguyen, Chief Programme Officer at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, finished by hailed the rollout as a pivotal moment, signifying expanded access to a lifesaving intervention against one of Africa’s deadliest diseases.

Nguyen emphasized the integration of malaria vaccines into routine programs alongside established interventions as a crucial step in saving lives and alleviating the strain on health systems.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has endorsed two safe and efficacious vaccines—RTS,S, and R21—which constitute a breakthrough in child health and malaria reduction.

A pilot malaria vaccine program undertaken in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi from 2019 to 2023 resulted in large reductions in malaria disease, a 13% fall in overall child mortality, and significant decreases in hospitalizations, confirming the efficacy of the interventions.

Despite these advancements, malaria remains a formidable health challenge in the African region, accounting for a substantial global burden.

The region, comprising 11 countries, shoulders approximately 70% of the global malaria burden, with an overwhelming majority of malaria cases and deaths reported from Africa.

Progress against malaria has stagnated in high-burden African countries since 2017, attributed to various factors including climate change, humanitarian crises, and systemic challenges within healthcare systems.

To reignite progress against malaria, WHO advocates for unwavering commitment to malaria responses at all levels, increased domestic and international funding, evidence-based interventions, and urgent action to address the health impacts of climate change.

Additionally, WHO emphasizes the importance of research, innovation, and collaborative partnerships in overcoming the multifaceted challenges posed by malaria, urging prompt action to address delays in program implementation.

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