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Malaria Vaccine Pilot Launches in Kenya

SEP 18, 2019 | MICHAELA FLEMING
On September 13, 2019, the government of Kenya joined Ghana and Malawi in a malaria vaccine pilot program.

The vaccine, known as RTS,S, will be available for children beginning at 6 months of age in particular areas of the country in a “phased pilot introduction” the World Health Organization (WHO) indicated.

As Contagion® previously reported, the vaccine was originally scheduled to launch on August 15th, but was postponed due to a health summit that was planned for the same day. The initiatives in Malawi and Ghana were launched in April.   

According to the WHO, there were 219 million cases of malaria worldwide in 2017, which resulted in 435,000 deaths. The mosquito-borne disease is the leading cause of death for children under the age of 5 years in Kenya.

“Africa has witnessed a recent surge in the number of malaria cases and deaths. This threatens the gains in the fight against malaria made in the past two decades,” said Matshidiso Moeti, MBBS, MSc, WHO Regional Director for Africa, in a WHO statement. “The ongoing pilots will provide the key information and data to inform a WHO policy on the broader use of the vaccine in sub-Saharan Africa. If introduced widely, the vaccine has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives.”

The WHO’s statement reports that phase 3 clinical trials evaluating the vaccine were conducted throughout Africa—including 3 study sites in Kenya—between 2009 and 2014. More than 4000 Kenyan children participated in the research.

The clinical trials observed that children who received 4 doses of RTS,S experienced “significant” reductions in malaria and malaria-related complications in comparison with children who did not receive the vaccine.

The vaccination schedule in Kenya will consist of 4 doses: 3 doses given between 6 and 9 months of age and the fourth dose given at 24 months. The program is being led by the Kenyan Ministry of Health and the National Vaccines and Immunization Program. The goal of this pilot is to vaccinate approximately 120,000 children per year in Kenya across the counties of Homa Bay, Kisumu, Migori, Siaya, Busia, Bungoma, Vihiga, and Kakamega.

“Vaccines are powerful tools that effectively reach and better protect the health of children who may not have immediate access to the doctors, nurses and health facilities they need to save them when severe illness comes,” Rudi Eggers, MBBS, MMed, WHO Representative to Kenya, “This is a day to celebrate as we begin to learn more about what this vaccine can do to change the trajectory of malaria though childhood vaccination.”

The WHO refers to the vaccine as a complementary malaria control tool, which will be added to the core package of WHO-recommended measures for malaria prevention, which include the use of insecticide-treated bed nets, insecticide spraying, and assess to malaria testing and treatment.
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