MoH-WHO launch protein-based malaria vaccine, RTS,S/AS01

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he launch which took place in Ndhiwa, Homa Bay County, was presided over by Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki.Photo/Courtesy

The Ministry of Health (MoH) in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO) on Friday launched RTS, S/AS01, a protein-based malaria vaccine first piloted in Malawi on April 23.

RTS, S/AS01 has been touted as the world’s first vaccine to protect young children against the deadliest form of malaria.

Kenya becomes the third country in Africa to launch the phased introduction of the vaccine after Malawi and Ghana who earlier this year commenced their own pilot vaccination programs supported by the WHO.

The landmark phased introduction program is set to take place in certain parts of Homabay, Kisumu, Migori, Siaya, Busia, Bungoma, Vihiga, and Kakamega counties.

The vaccine targets the deadliest and most common form of malaria parasite in Africa, where children under five account for two-thirds of all global deaths from the mosquito-borne illness.

The launch which took place in Ndhiwa, Homa Bay County, was presided over by Health Cabinet Secretary Sicily Kariuki.

“It’s an exciting time for Kenya as we roll out this vaccine in parts of the country where the burden of malaria is the highest. Over the years, we have worked to introduce several malaria-control measures and this vaccine represents an additional tool that will boost Kenya’s efforts in reducing malaria infections and deaths among children, who are at greatest risk of life-threatening complications from malaria,” said the Cabinet Secretary.

In recent years, Kenya has made tremendous progress in the fight against malaria by rolling out proven control measures, including insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying, prompt diagnosis, and prevention with anti-malarial medicine.

Despite these efforts, in 2016, there were an estimated 3.5 million malaria infections and just over 10,000 deaths in Kenya, overwhelming the capacity of health facilities.

New interventions are needed to complement those currently in use to further drive down the disease burden in the country.

“This is the most advanced malaria vaccine that we have today. It has been in the making for the last almost three decades,” WHO’s Coordinator of Immunization and Vaccine Development, Richard Mihigo, stated.

The malaria vaccine, which will be delivered through the routine national immunization programmes, is given at 6 months, 7 months, 9 months and 24 months of age.

To get the most protection, a child who receives the vaccine must get all four doses and continue other practices to prevent malaria, including sleeping under a mosquito net every night,  throughout the year.

Head of the National Malaria Control Program, Grace Ikahu, noted that the country has made great progress in reducing the prevalence of malaria using current malaria interventions.

“As we aim to eliminate malaria in parts of this country, we are excited to deploy the malaria vaccine in our malaria endemic regions and monitor its impact on malaria prevalence in the country.”

The injectable vaccine, RTS,S, was developed to protect young children from the most deadly form of malaria caused by Plasmodium falciparum.

Clinical tests showed that the vaccine prevented about 4 in 10 cases of malaria and 3 in 10 cases of life-threatening, severe malaria over a four-year period.

There were also significantly fewer hospital admissions, anaemia, and need for blood transfusions required to treat life-threatening malaria anaemia.

The malaria vaccine pilot aims to reach about 120,000 children in Kenya, and 360,000 children per year across the three participating countries.