Malaria vaccine plays critical role in turning the tide on malaria in Ghana

Malaria vaccine plays critical role in turning the tide on malaria in Ghana

Malaria vaccine plays critical role in turning the tide on malaria in Ghana

Malaria vaccine plays critical role in turning the tide on malaria in Ghana

While Ghanaian mother Charity Kesewaa Damoah has nursed her eight-year-old son through several debilitating bouts of malaria, his 14-month-old brother, John, is living proof of the benefits of the first malaria vaccine recommended to prevent the disease in children, she believes.

Not once, since he was first inoculated at six months of age, has John fallen ill with the potentially fatal disease, which poses a significant health burden and carries a heightened risk for pregnant women and under-5 children.

Kesewaa recalls feeling fearful when health workers in the Sunyani East Municipality first encouraged her to vaccinate John against malaria.

“I went for weighing at the clinic and the nurses informed me that my son was going to be given two injections, for polio and malaria. I was scared initially because I had never heard of malaria vaccination, but after the nurses explained, I agreed that my son get his first dose,” she says.

John, who has now had three of the requisite four doses of the RTS,S vaccine, is among thousands of Ghanaian children to benefit from the new vaccine, which has been added to routine immunization schedules in several of the country’s health facilities.

In 2019, Ghana joined Malawi and Kenya to launch the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme. Part of a multi-pronged strategy to prevent malaria-related disease and deaths in the country, it targeted children for vaccination in 42 districts across seven regions.

In February this year, the country launched an expansion of the malaria immunization programme, which is expected to deliver malaria vaccines to children in 51 additional districts in the seven regions.

Since 2016, when malaria parasite prevalence in under-5 children was 20.6%, Ghana successfully reduced that rate to 14.6% by 2019. Ghana’s malaria vaccination strategy has been complemented by a range of other interventions, including the development of national guidelines, the treatment of malaria in pregnant women, and the funding of geographic information systems trainings. These combined interventions resulted in a reduction of in-patient malaria deaths, from 428 in 2018, to 155 in 2022.

Ghana’s Health Minister, Kwaku Agyeman-Manu, hails the successes, urging all parents and caregivers in Ghana to follow the example of parents such as Kesewaa and vaccinate their eligible children against malaria.

Alice Abban, a resident of Cape Coast, agrees. After taking her grandson Griffin for his second dose at the Ewim Polyclinic in Ghana’s Central region, she confirms that he is the only member of her entire family who has never contracted malaria.

Health Minister Agyeman-Manu says the statistics are proof that vaccines save children’s lives. “They are one of the most cost-effective public health interventions, and the best way to help children to survive,” he says.

As of December 2022, a total of 1.4 million doses of the vaccine had been administered to eligible children in Ghana, with 459 446 children receiving at least one dose, and 184 418 completing all four doses.

Dr Francis Kasolo, World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in Ghana,  says the malaria vaccine has been a welcome addition to the malaria control toolbox, offering the opportunity to rapidly reach children with a lifesaving intervention.

“It is critical for all stakeholders to spread the word about the importance of malaria vaccination, along with all other childhood immunizations, in protecting the lives and livelihoods of our children and future generations,” he urges.

The vaccine implementation programme is coordinated by WHO, and supported by PATH, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), vaccine manufacturer GSK plc and other stakeholders, with funding provided by the Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and Unitaid. Besides playing a key coordination role, WHO has also trained over 1500 community health workers in 51 districts to lead vaccination efforts.

Their current offensive against malaria has given stakeholders hope that Ghana is indeed progressing towards eliminating malaria.

“We are excited that the malaria vaccine is well-accepted in communities and that demand is high. We are confident that this will consolidate the gains we have already made towards the elimination of malaria,” says John Bawa, PATH’S Chief of Party and Team Lead for New Vaccine Introduction.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of World Health Organization (WHO), Ghana.