Opinions & Features

Malaria vaccine approval is an intense victory for Africa, but more needs to be done

Africa’s climate is characterized by moisture and aridity. Regrettably, this provides the perfect breeding ground for different tropical diseases. Malaria has plagued Africa for decades, wreaking havoc on children and newborns; even when the condition is treatable, it causes premature mortality. The rigorous nature of the disease has, in some instances, proven deadly and life-threatening.

However, after immense efforts for thirty years, the historical RTS, S malaria vaccine has been given a stamp of approval by the World Health Organisation (WHO). It was licensed for use in Sub-Saharan Africa and other places with a high malaria transmission rate after several efforts. This comes after a successful immunization trial in Ghana, Malawi, and Kenya. Research has shown that the RTS, S vaccine was safe for young children, reducing hospitalization and mortality in vaccinated children by over 70 percent.

In comparison to other pediatric vaccines, RTS, S is found to be of modest value, preventing about 30% of severe malaria cases after a series of four injections in children under the age of five. According to WHO estimates, one life will be saved for every 200 children who are immunized. This will undoubtedly transform the face of African medicine.

This is a significant triumph for the African continent as the vaccine will reduce premature deaths being caused by malaria. In addition, the vaccine will open more doors for further research in the development of vaccines for all other tropical diseases affecting Africa. 

What is next for Africa is to ensure the availability of the vaccine across its nations, with a focus on where malaria is rampant— this can be done by subsidizing the cost of vaccine access; making vaccines to be distributed more evenly, and resulting in fewer malaria transmissions and deaths.

Furthermore, to encourage inclusion and equal footing in the fight against malaria, the vaccine should be available to even the most distant corners and remote areas of Africa. Next is raising awareness among African countries to increase the number of countries that utilize the vaccine.

Africa should understand that there is a need to use it in conjunction with other existing interventions. These include indoor residual spraying and the use of insecticide-treated bed nets. 

The RTS, S vaccine represents a significant step forward in the healthcare system and medical research efficiency in Africa and the world at large. Hence, it is left for health personnel not to sleep on it and should effectively stop severe malaria disease in older children as the vaccine is a new dawn.

Angela Halubobya is a writing fellow at African Liberty.

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