More data expected from malaria vaccine to inform scaling up use across Africa

The RTS,S malaria vaccine, described as a partially effective vaccine with potential for high impact, is expected to be subjected to a policy decision by mid-2021, to assess its wider use in other countries.

The World Health Organization (WHO) together with other partners will weigh preliminary data being assembled from the pilot programme, which is being run under the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (MVIP).

Currently the vaccine is being administered to children in Ghana under a pilot programme in 81 districts in 7 regions in Ghana.The regions are Ahafo, Bono, Bono East, Central, Oti, part of Upper East, and Volta. The target population for RTS,S is approximately 171,000 children per year.

The WHO is coordinating and supporting the phased and pilot introduction of the RTS, S malaria vaccine in Ghana, Malawi and Kenya through country-led routine immunization established the MVIP.

The MVIP, working with evaluation partners, is evaluating the feasibility of delivering the required doses of the vaccine in routine settings in the three countries.

Mr. John Bawa, the African lead of the Vaccine Implementation of PATH, making a presentation at a virtual meeting with a group of Ghanaian journalists belonging to a National Media Coalition on Malaria,  said  during clinical trials of the vaccine, thousands of clinical malaria cases were averted over 4 years.

The virtual meeting was organised by the African Media and Malaria Research Network (AMMREN). In 2020, AMMREN, together with the National Malaria Control Programme (NMCP) in Ghana and the Dakar-based Speak Up Africa organization jointly organized a media advocacy project on the Zero Malaria Starts with Me (ZMSWM) campaign leading to the establishment of a National Media Coalition and AMMREN is hosting the Coalition Secretariat.

The virtual meeting was aimed at updating the journalists on the status of the vaccine in the pilot studies.

According to Mr. John Bawa, who is also the Country Coordinator of PATH Ghana, the RTS,S vaccine has a 39 per cent ability to reduce clinical malaria, a 61 percentage of reducing severe malaria anaemia, a 37 percentage of reducing malaria hospitalization and a 29 percentage in reducing severe malaria.

He noted that so far, there are no safety issues coming in from the data on the children taking part in pilot immunization programme, adding that key stakeholders including caregivers and health workers are satisfied with the outcome of the vaccination processes.

Various evaluation studies such qualitative assessments on household reactions, uptake of services including an economic analysis are also taking place to, among others, cost the deployment of the vaccines, when it is in wider use.

Mr Bawa said the three partners in the Collaboration Agreement for the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (GSK, PATH, and WHO) are committed to working together to ensure long-term sustainable supply of the vaccine, in the event of a WHO policy recommendation for broader use in Africa and positive financing decisions.

They are also committed to the ongoing pilot introduction of the RTS,S vaccine in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi, he added.

During the virtual meeting, Dr. Charity Binka, Executive Secretary of AMMREN, urged the journalists to churn our quality articles on malaria to sustain advocacy around the disease.

She called for the inclusion of journalists by stakeholders in all the processes from the pilot stages to the scaling up of the vaccine in the wider population to make the vaccine widely acceptable.

She noted that AMMREN has sustained media advocacy on the vaccine from the clinical trials of the vaccine across Africa and should not be left out now because effective media advocacy is still needed.

By Eunice Menka

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