Kenya Rolls Out Landmark Malaria Vaccine Pilot

Kenya initiated a national pilot of the world’s first malaria vaccine today, joining Ghana and Malawi to introduce the landmark vaccine as a tool against a disease that remains a leading killer of children under the age of 5 years, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The vaccine, known as RTS,S, will be rolled out nationally in phases to children from 6 months of age in eight counties across the country, beginning in Homa Bay, in western Kenya, said a WHO press release. It is the first vaccine with the potential to significantly reduce malaria infection in children, including life-threatening severe malaria, which claims the life of one child every two minutes.

Malaria vaccine launched in Kenya. Photo: WHO Africa Region

“Africa has witnessed a recent surge in the number of malaria cases and deaths. This threatens the gains in the fight against malaria made in the past two decades,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa, speaking at the Kenya launch event. “The ongoing pilots will provide the key information and data to inform a WHO policy on the broader use of the vaccine in sub-Saharan Africa. If introduced widely, the vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives.”

WHO said that the aim is to vaccinate about 120,000 children per year in Kenya. The WHO-coordinated pilot is a collaboration with the ministries of health in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, as well as international and local NGOs. PATH and GSK, the vaccine developer and manufacturer, are donating up to 10 million vaccine doses for the pilot. Financing for the pilot programme has been mobilized through a collaboration between Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance; the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria; and UNITAID.

WHO said that the vaccine has a proven track record from Phase 3 clinical trials, which were conducted between 2009 and 2014 through a network of African research sites, including three sites in Kenya (Kombewa, Siaya and Kilifi) and enrolling more than 4,000 Kenyan children. Children receiving four doses of RTS,S experienced significant reductions in malaria and malaria-related complications in comparison to those who did not receive RTS,S. Health benefits of the vaccine were added to those already seen through the use of insecticide-treated bed nets; prompt diagnosis; and effective antimalarial treatment. The vaccine, where available, will be given in four doses: three doses between 6 months and 9 months of age, and the fourth dose at 24 months (age 2).

After thirty years under development, WHO said that the vaccine is soon to be added to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention. Other key measures include use of insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying with insecticides and access to malaria testing and treatment.

Kenya is one of three countries selected from among 10 African country applicants for the RTS,S pilot. Key criteria for selection included well-functioning malaria and immunization programmes and areas with moderate to high malaria transmission.

For more about the initiative, see the WHO Press release


Image Credits: WHO Africa Region.

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