By Rael Ombuor
NAIROBI — Kenya has become the third African country to roll out the world’s first malaria vaccine. Young children in eight western Kenyan counties will receive the RTS,S malaria vaccine, developed by British pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline.
Africa continues to bear the greatest brunt of malaria globally and the introduction of the vaccine in parts of Africa is seen as a possible game changer in the fight against the killer disease.
Mothers and children lined up at a health center in Ndhiwa, Homa Bay County, on Friday to receive their first injection of the RTS,S malaria vaccine.
The vaccine will be administered in four doses to children between 6 months and 2 years old.
The program is being facilitated by Kenya’s Ministry of Health in collaboration with the World Health Organization, the global nonprofit PATH and other partners.
A clinic handbook is given to new mothers free of charge upon delivery at health facilities all over the country. The book contains vaccination schedules and information materials.
Scott Gordon, director for the malaria vaccine implementation program at PATH, was present at the launch and spoke to VOA by phone.
“Given the malaria burden here in Kenya where it’s one of the leading causes of childhood killers as well as the burden in the other countries, today's launch is a tremendous step. It means we have a tool that can be used in selected areas in Kenya to combat malaria and ensure that children are able to benefit from the broader portfolio of tools for malaria,” Gordon said.
Malawi, Ghana, and Kenya are participating in the malaria vaccine implementation program coordinated by the WHO.
At least 360,000 children are expected to receive the vaccine each year in the three countries.
The Homa Bay County minister for health, Richard Otieno Muga, says the vaccine will be one more tool for fighting malaria.
“Introduction of vaccines is one of the interventions but already we have insecticide treated nets, we also have indoor residual spraying in which we carry out to be able to fight malaria, which is a major killer for most of our children," Muga said.
The WHO says Africa accounts for 90% of malaria cases and deaths globally.
The program will run through 2022, with scientists studying the rollout to gauge the effectiveness of the vaccine.