Malaria vaccine rollout begins in Cameroon

Cameroon has today become the first nation to introduce a vital malaria vaccination into its national inoculation program.

It is not the first time any nation has used the Mosquirix vaccine – Ghana, Kenya and Malawi participated recently in a pilot initiative that delivered the inoculation to 2 million children – however it does mark the first instance of a country introducing it as part of a nationwide program.

The malaria-causing Plasmodium parasite is transmitted to humans through specific mosquitoes and can be fatal. It’s the most prevalent disease in Cameroon, which according to aid agencies is responsible for about 6 million cases in the country annually, with the World Health Organization estimating it as the cause of around 11,000 deaths each year.

A health worker mixes vaccine during the launch of malaria vaccine pilot programs in kenya.
Credit: BRIAN ONGORO/AFP via Getty Images

It’s the cause of the highest health burden in Africa. The continent also accounts for 94% of infections and 95% of deaths worldwide – roughly 243m cases and 578,000 deaths. Most deaths are among children aged under 5. Compare that to the Western Pacific, which averaged 230 deaths annually from 2018-2020.

Public health measures such as the introduction of insecticide-treated bed netting for children and adults, mosquito-repelling chemicals and protective clothing have all helped lower the rate of malarial infection in Cameroon.

The success of the three-nation pilot program has now led to Cameroon’s adoption of Mosquirix in its national prevention program.

“The launch of the malaria vaccine marks a significant step in the prevention and control of the disease, especially in protecting children against severe disease and death,” says Dr Phanuel Habimana, the WHO’s representative in Cameroon.

“We’re committed to supporting the national health authorities to ensure an effective rollout of the malaria vaccine together with scale up of other malaria control measures.”

Cameroon received more than 330,000 vaccine doses from Mosquirix’s British manufacturer GSK at the end of 2023, with more due to arrive early this year.

Trials undertaken from 2019-2021 administered four vaccine doses in children from 5 months of age, with a fifth dose given a year after this first schedule in regions where the risk of malaria is high.

The Malaria Vaccine Implementation program led to a 13% decline in child mortality in eligible age groups and “substantial” decreases in malaria-related hospital visits.

Another vaccine, known as R21, has been as effective as Mosquirix in clinical trials and the WHO expects it will become available for future immunisation programs. Research into other vaccines that target Plasmodium.

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