Cameroon launches historic large-scale malaria jab campaign

Cameroon has launched the first nationwide malaria vaccination programme, in a move described by the World Health Organization (WHO) as “historic”. Malaria is a mosquito-borne disease that kills over 600,000 people yearly, with 95% of the deaths occurring in Africa. Children under five account for more than 80% of these deaths on the continent.

The RTS,S vaccine, following a successful pilot phase, is now being rolled out across Africa, starting in Cameroon. The first vaccination was administered to six-month-old Noah Ngah at a hospital in the town of Soa, 20 kilometres from the capital Yaounde. The vaccination will be offered free of charge to all children under six months, alongside other routine vaccinations.

The WHO, UNICEF, and the Gavi vaccine alliance have hailed this development as a significant step towards broader vaccination against one of the deadliest diseases for African children. Over 300,000 doses of RTS,S, the first malaria vaccine recommended by the WHO, arrived in Yaounde in November 2022, after two years of planning.

Pilot phases in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi have already shown promising results, leading to substantial reductions in severe malaria illness and hospitalizations. Ghana’s Health Minister, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, has reported a significant drop in the under-five malaria fatality rate, from 1.7% in 2008 to 0.06% in 2022.

The vaccination campaign in Cameroon is expected to have a significant impact as 30% of consultations in the country are linked to malaria. The vaccine will not only save lives but also free up the healthcare system, resulting in fewer hospitalizations and deaths.

Following in Cameroon’s footsteps, Burkina Faso, Liberia, Niger, and Sierra Leone are planning to implement large-scale malaria vaccination programmes. While the rollout is seen as a vital step forward, experts caution that the vaccine’s efficacy is not 100%. However, even at 40% efficacy, it has proven to be a life-saver, particularly for children under two years old who are more susceptible to severe malaria.

Overall, the launch of the large-scale malaria vaccination campaign in Cameroon marks a significant milestone in the fight against this deadly disease in Africa. It offers hope for reducing malaria-related deaths and improving the health outcomes of children across the continent.