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Uganda is among twelve countries across different regions in Africa that are set to receive 18 million doses of the first-ever malaria vaccine over the next two years, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the vaccine alliance, GAVI, have announced in a joint statement.

The roll out is a critical step forward in the fight against one of the leading causes of death on the continent following successful piloting in Kenya, Ghana and Malawi.

The allocations have been determined through the application of the principles outlined in the Framework for allocation of limited malaria vaccine supply that prioritizes those doses to areas of highest need, where the risk of malaria illness and death among children are highest.

Since 2019, Ghana, Kenya and Malawi have been delivering the malaria vaccine through the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (MVIP), coordinated by WHO and funded by Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and Unitaid.

The RTS,S/AS01 vaccine has been administered to more than 1.7 million children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi since 2019 and has been shown to be safe and effective, resulting in both a substantial reduction in severe malaria and a fall in child deaths. At least 28 African countries have expressed interest in receiving the malaria vaccine.

Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Niger and Sierra Leone are the other countries alongside Uganda to join Kenya, Ghana and Malawi to introduce the vaccine into their routine immunization programmes for the first time.

In October 2021, a week after the landmark recommendation by WHO to use the RTS,S vaccine for combating malaria among infants on a large scale, Dr Jimmy Opigo, an assistant commissioner in-charge of malaria control asserted that Uganda was positioning to be the first country to adopt malaria vaccine to fight the disease among children under five years.

Two weeks ago, the ministry of health announced that the country is set to introduce the malaria vaccine between April and May 2024.

Uganda’s malaria immunisation program taking shape

WHO says this allocation round makes use of the supply of vaccine doses available to Gavi, Vaccine Alliance via UNICEF.

The first doses of the vaccine are expected to arrive in countries during the last quarter of 2023, with countries starting to roll them out by early 2024.

“This vaccine has the potential to be very impactful in the fight against malaria, and when broadly deployed alongside other interventions, it can prevent tens of thousands of future deaths every year,” said Thabani Maphosa, Managing Director of Country Programmes Delivery at Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

“While we work with manufacturers to help ramp up supply, we need to make sure the doses that we do have are used as effectively as possible, which means applying all the learning from our pilot programmes as we broaden out to a new total of 12 countries.”

Malaria remains one of Africa’s deadliest diseases, killing nearly half a million children under the age of 5, and accounting for approximately 95% of global malaria cases and 96% of deaths in 2021.

“Nearly every minute, a child under 5 years old dies of malaria,” said UNICEF Associate Director of Immunization, Ephrem T Lemango.

He added: “For a long time, these deaths have been preventable and treatable; but the roll-out of this vaccine will give children, especially in Africa, an even better chance at surviving. As supply increases, we hope even more children can benefit from this life-saving advancement.”

Meanwhile, Dr Kate O’Brien, the WHO director of immunization, vaccines and biological described the malaria vaccine as a breakthrough to improve child health and child survival.

“The high demand for the vaccine and the strong reach of childhood immunisation will increase equity in access to malaria prevention and save many young lives. We will work tirelessly to increase supply until all children at risk have access,” she assured.

Over 28 countries expressed interest to introduce the malaria vaccine into their routine immunization programs according to WHO and 14 applications submitted to GAVI by countries during the first two application windows (September 2022 an January 2023) were recommended for funding.

According to the GAVI malaria vaccine allocation framework, 2023, Niger was given partial allocation while Sudan and Mozambique were posed to wait for the next phase due to limited supply of vaccines.

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