Malaria vaccine offers hope in fight against the killer disease.

Clara Magalasi, who lives in a rural village near Lilongwe, the capital city of Malawi, woke up to a grey morning with a dull sky that was threatening rain.

For Ms. Magalasi, the weather did not stop her from walking the 4 kilometres to Chileka Health Centre. Her daughter Grace Butawo, who just turned 22 months, was due for her fourth and final dose of the RTS,S malaria vaccine. She is fully aware of the vaccine benefits.

"I understand that if my child gets all four doses, the vaccine will give her the most protection against malaria and severe malaria. Ever since Grace was born, she has never suffered from malaria, unlike my other children who experienced a lot of malaria episodes when they were her age," says Ms. Magalasi.

When added to currently recommended malaria control tools, the RTS,S malaria vaccine can reduce episodes of malaria in children by 40 per cent and reduce life-threatening severe malaria by around 30 per cent.

Malaria vaccine pilot progress: two years on

Currently, Grace is one of the estimated 220,000 children in Malawi who have received at least one dose of the RTS,S malaria vaccine through routine immunization as part of a landmark pilot implementation in sub-Saharan Africa - led by the Ministries of Health in Malawi, Ghana, and Kenya, coordinated by the United Nations, through the World Health Organisation (WHO), and supported by in-country and regional and global health partners.

In Malawi, malaria is among the three most deadly diseases among children under five years old, alongside pneumonia and diarrhoea. WHO and UNICEF have been working together with health authorities to combat the disease, as it is preventable and easily treatable if caught early.

And when the moment came two years ago to introduce the malaria vaccine into childhood immunization programmes in the world, Malawi became the first country to get on board, followed by Ghana and then Kenya. The vaccine was introduced in a phased approach that targeted 11 districts in Malawi.

Globally, more than half of childhood deaths occur in Africa, and malaria is a major cause of these. In January 2016, the WHO recommended pilot implementation of the RTS,S malaria vaccine in children to use alongside other malaria control interventions in settings of moderate-to-high parasite transmission. The malaria vaccine is the first and, to date, the only vaccine that can significantly reduce malaria in children.

The power of immunization to increase health equity


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