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Cameroon Launches Landmark Malaria Vaccine Programme
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Cameroon Launches Africa’s First Routine Malaria Vaccine Programme

Cameroon has initiated the world’s first routine vaccination programme against malaria, marking a significant step in the fight against the disease. The inaugural dose was administered to a baby girl named Daniella at a health facility near Yaoundé, symbolizing the beginning of this crucial initiative.

Malaria continues to be a major health concern in Africa, claiming the lives of approximately 600,000 people annually, with children under five accounting for at least 80% of these fatalities. In response, Cameroon is providing the RTS,S vaccine free of charge to infants up to six months old, with a requirement of four doses administered alongside other routine childhood vaccines for convenience.

Previous pilot campaigns in Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi have demonstrated the vaccine’s potential, showing a 13% reduction in malaria deaths among eligible children. While its efficacy rate is around 36%, making it a valuable tool in combating malaria, it is not a standalone solution. When used in conjunction with mosquito nets and malaria tablets, it could provide up to 90% protection for children, according to a study led by researchers in the UK.

The development of the RTS,S vaccine, which has been in the making for 30 years by the British pharmaceutical company GSK, has received approval from the World Health Organization (WHO). The WHO has hailed its launch in Cameroon as a historic milestone in the global fight against malaria.

Despite its potential, concerns about vaccine hesitancy due to safety and efficacy have arisen among some Cameroonians. Efforts are being made to address these concerns through education and awareness campaigns, emphasizing the vaccine’s safety, effectiveness, and accessibility.

In 2021, Africa accounted for 95% of global malaria cases and about 96% of related deaths. Cameroon alone records approximately six million malaria cases annually, resulting in around 4,000 deaths in health facilities, most of which are children under five.

The success of Cameroon’s programme has sparked interest from other countries, with 20 nations planning to implement similar initiatives this year. However, the availability of doses falls short of the demand, with only about 18 million doses allocated before 2025, according to Gavi, the global vaccine alliance.

The anticipated rollout of a second vaccine, R21, developed by Oxford University and manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, is expected to address this shortfall, potentially providing up to 100 million doses annually pending regulatory approvals.

Piers Potter

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