NEWS COMMENTARY ON THE PHASED ADDITIONAL MALARIA VACCINE IMPLEMENTATION PROGRAMME AND THE NEED FOR ALL CHILDREN TO GET VACCINATED.
Vaccination has come to save the world and its children, protecting them from serious illnesses and complications of vaccine-preventable diseases like Polio, which can lead to deformities in children. Ghana currently vaccinates against 13 childhood diseases. The good news is that the WHO has recommended the use of the Malaria Vaccine, RTS’s or Mosquirix, the first vaccine recommended for use to prevent malaria in children, alongside other interventions. Three countries in Africa, namely Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi, have since 2019 piloted the Malaria Vaccine in their national routine immunisation programmes which have yielded maximum results due to the vaccine’s good safety profile.
Within the three-year period, all three countries had good results, vaccinating one point two million children with about 4 million doses. Evidence generated has been that the malaria vaccine reduces the number of times a child gets malaria, including severe malaria and reduces child hospitalisation and deaths. Ghana had 42 districts in Seven Regions for its first phase implementation which is still ongoing, and according to the Expanded Programme on Immunization EPI/GHS more than 400 thousand children have already received the vaccine across these seven regions. The Second phase which has just been launched has additional 51 Districts in the same Seven Regions to also benefit. The regions are Central, Volta, Bono, Bono East, Ahafo, Oti, and the Upper East.
Phase 3 is expected to be on a nationwide scale–up, with the remaining 168 districts. The vaccine is part of the overall malaria prevention package and gives additional protection against malaria therefore, vaccinated children should continue to sleep under insecticide treated nets all night and use other recommended malaria prevention measures. It is on record that children benefit most when they receive all the FOUR DOSES. Children get the first dose from 6 months, 7 months, 9 months and the final dose at 18 months. However, parents and caregivers are encouraged not to hesitate to send their children or wards to take the vaccines, even if they are late just like other vaccines. Expectations are high that this additional malaria prevention tool delivered on the existing immunization platform which reaches about 80 percent of children in malaria-endemic countries can substantially reduce severe malaria and save lives. Vaccine scale-up to additional countries is expected to begin by 2024 as other countries are also coming on board to adopt the vaccine as part of their national malaria control plans. Did you know that malaria has been described as an enduring health challenge and remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in Africa? It accounts for 476 out of the 619 malaria deaths in Africa. The disease again has a negative impact on some economies in Africa and has 70 percent lower per capita income levels in endemic countries.
It is indeed absurd to hear some people refer to malaria as, ‘menya malaria ketewa bi’ to wit small malaria when the disease is actually lowering their productivity and affecting other areas of their lives. It is important to stop referring to malaria as small, and jump on the bandwagon to make the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme successful, resulting in more children growing up healthier. It is important at this point for communities to play watchdog roles and remind mothers and caregivers with children under two years to fully participate in the programme. Fathers and other male involvement is also key. Traditional Leaders and Queen mothers are already playing roles in their areas but they should encourage mothers to keep the schedule and send their children for vaccinations when they are due, as this will help to improve the health of children in their communities.