Malaria Vaccine: Cameroon Launches World’s First Routine Program

Cameroon has become the first country in the world to start a routine vaccination programme against malaria, a disease that kills hundreds of thousands of people in Africa every year.

The historic launch took place on Monday at a health facility near Yaoundé, where an eight-month-old baby girl named Daniella received the first dose of the RTS,S vaccine, also known as Mosquirix.

The vaccine, developed by the British drug-maker GSK, is the result of 30 years of research and trials. It has been endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO), which hailed it as a “transformative chapter in Africa’s public health history”.

The vaccine is expected to save tens of thousands of lives by preventing severe malaria cases and deaths in children under five, who are the most vulnerable to the mosquito-borne disease.

According to the WHO, malaria caused an estimated 384,000 deaths in Africa in 2020, accounting for 95% of the global total. Cameroon alone reported more than 2.3 million cases and over 4,000 deaths in the same year.

The vaccine requires four doses to be fully effective: the first three doses are given at five, six and seven months of age, and the fourth dose is given at 22 months of age. The vaccine will be offered free of charge to all infants up to six months old, along with other routine childhood immunizations.

The launch in Cameroon follows a successful pilot programme that involved more than 800,000 children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi between 2019 and 2021. The pilot showed that the vaccine reduced malaria deaths by 13% and severe malaria cases by 30% in children of eligible age, according to Unicef.

The vaccine is not a “silver bullet” against malaria, but an important additional tool that complements other prevention and treatment measures, such as insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying, and anti-malarial drugs.

Cameroon is the first of 20 African countries that plan to introduce the vaccine this year, with the support of the global vaccine alliance Gavi, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and other partners. The goal is to reach 6.6 million children across the continent by the end of 2024.

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The rollout of the vaccine has been welcomed by public health experts, government officials, and community leaders in Cameroon, who have been raising awareness and addressing any concerns or doubts about the vaccine’s safety and efficacy.

“We have a capacity to considerably reduce the number of cases and deaths from malaria and accelerate the elimination of the disease,” said Dr Shalom Ndoula, who helped to lead the rollout in Cameroon.

“We are not just witnessing but actively participating in a transformative chapter in Africa’s public health history,” said Dr Mohammed Abdulaziz, the division head at the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

“For a long time we have been waiting for a day like this … it brings more than just hope, it brings a reduction in the mortality and morbidity associated with malaria,” he added.