Malaria is still one of the country’s major public health concerns even with the thirteen intervention programmes available to curb and eliminate it.
According to the World malaria report, 2018, Ghana was among top 20 countries in which malaria cases exceeded 300,000 in 2017 globally.
Additionally, the country is said to have contributed 4 per cent to the world’s malaria cases in 2017, with 10.4 million suspected cases, 380,000 admissions, and 1,264 deaths in 2016.
It is estimated that Ghana is faced with 2,000 deaths annually from malaria, approximately 48 per cent of which afflict children under the age of five, and it is the major cause of hospital attendance, contributing to about 30 per cent of admissions.
A joint study by the National Malaria Control Programme and School of Public Health of the University of Ghana found that businesses in the country lost about GH¢20 million to malaria infections in 2014.
The country is also reported to spend an estimated $760 million every year on malaria.
It is obvious, therefore, that the country needs to do more to reduce the prevalence of the disease. For this reason, Ghana has joined two other African countries; Malawi and Kenya, to lead the pilot introduction of a new malaria vaccine in routine systems.
About the vaccine
Speaking at a malaria vaccine implementation programme press briefing, The Director of Public Health at the Ghana Health Service, (GHS) Dr Badu Sakodie, explained that the RTS,S also called mosquirix is an injectable vaccine that has been added to the already existing malaria preventive measures for children. He said, the RTS,S/AS01, has been developed to protect against P. falciparum malaria in children. He said it is derived from part of the P. falciparum parasite, part of hepatitis B surface antigen(HBsAg) and an adjuvant system expressed in yeast cells.
How it works
According to Dr Badu Sarkodie, the vaccine (RTS,S) will stimulate the body’s own immune system to defend against malaria. He explained that, “It is designed to prevent the malaria parasite from infecting, maturing, and multiplying in the liver; the usual process after which the parasite would normally re-enter the bloodstream and infect red blood cells, leading to disease symptoms.”
Dosage, benefits and effects of RTS,S
Officials at GHS said, the first malaria vaccine will be provided for children in routine immunization which will be given in four doses at age six months, seven months, nine months, and 24 months. The vaccine is given as an injection on the child’s left thigh and it is highly recommended that every child receive all four doses to get the most protection.
The vaccine has proven to reduce the number of times a child gets malaria, and reduces the chances of children getting severe malaria, according to the Ghana Health Service .
The officials indicated that some children who are vaccinated may get some side effects, however, they are mild. These include fever, pain at the injection side, redness and swelling at the injection site. The GHS has therefore advised parents to report to the nearest health facility if any child gets any of these side effects or any other reaction.
Target and expected impact
The pilot implementation which will roll out on May 1, 2019 between a period of two and half to three years, will target 120-150,000 per year, by which at least 50,000 malaria cases are expected to be averted and approximately 750 children expected to be saved from malaria associated deaths in the districts administering the vaccine. Ghana is likely to be among countries to take part in the mass roll-out after the estimated pilot has ended.
Areas to pilot
Six regions have been selected to begin piloting the vaccine. The regions include, Central, Volta, (Oti and Volta) and Brong Ahafo (Bono, Bono East) Regions. The selection was based on stringent selection criteria.
Safety of RTS,S
Officials have assured that the vaccine has been adequately tested and will not pose any danger to children who will receive it. GHS said, it has prepared resources and trained health personnel to monitor the project keenly to quickly detect and assuage any imminent danger.
The Foods and Drugs Authority (FDA) has also indicated that, the vaccine has been tested and approved to be administered in children who fall in the age range. The CEO, Mrs. Delese Mimi Darko said, “The Food and Drugs Authority has registered the vaccine, actually we registered it in a joint review process with the other two countries and it is registered for the period the implementation is taking place. we’ve also put in place a safety monitoring programme, we already have a safety monitoring programme in place in country, and we’ve put together even more vigilant programme, where we’ve developed a form that will monitor and be used to monitor all the adverse effects that may occur.”
Children who receive the vaccine are more likely to be immune to malaria compared to those who will not receive it. Speaking to journalists at the press briefing, the Director General, GHS, Dr Anthony Nsiah Asare said, about four in ten children will not get any severe malaria in their life-time, and also about three in ten children will not have malaria deaths if they are vaccinated.
“Like if you give vaccination for other diseases, for example if you give vaccination for measles, the child will not get the measles, so we’ve also done studies and realized that the efficacy increases considerably so that the child doesn’t die,” he said.
Dr Nsiah Asare warned that no one should take advantage of unsuspecting parents to defraud them by selling the vaccine. He said the vaccine is free because the government of Ghana and its partners have taken the cost and will administer it for free.
He encouraged parents to take advantage of the vaccination when the campaign begins on May 1 to avoid severe consequences of malaria on their children.
By Asabea Akonor
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