The World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance have rolled out one-of-a-kind malaria vaccine financing in Africa.
The program has seen Gavi commit to a $155.7 million (Kes18.5 billion) for the 2022–2025 period, as well as $56 million investment through a “de-risk” agreement with medicine maker GlaxoSmithKline (GSK )and innovative financing partner, MedAccess.
This comes just a month after the European Commission (EC) donated $10.47 million to the continent to aid in the development of a vaccine targeted at preventing placental malaria.
Kenya, Malawi, and Ghana have been selected to benefit from the financing after successfully participating in the ongoing pilot of the vaccine, RTS.
Kenya rolled out the vaccine in 2019 in eight counties with the highest malaria burden, including Kakamega, Vihiga, Bungoma, Busia, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Migori, and Siaya.
During the earlier clinical trials, RTS vaccination showed evidence of 35.9 percent efficacy in the first year after vaccination, however, the efficacy fell to 2.5 percent in the fourth year.
At the same time, it was found to be safe and effective against Plasmodium falciparum, the most deadly malaria parasite, which is also the most prevalent in Africa.
In October last year, the global health body recommended the vaccine for wider use in children in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions with moderate to high malaria transmission.
According to the WHO data, over 260,000 African children under the age of five years die from malaria annually, with six Gavi-eligible countries accounting for 50 percent of global mortality.
“The new funding opportunity will make the world’s only malaria vaccine more accessible to African children. If delivered to scale, the vaccine will help to prevent millions of cases of malaria, save tens of thousands of lives and ensure a brighter future for the continent,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa.
Dr Moeti further noted that malaria has devastated communities for far too long in Africa and the new strategy to fight malaria will save lives, adding that the global health agency has developed a framework to guide vaccine allocation decisions at global and country levels.
“Now is the time for African countries and communities to call out their interest – to donors, health leaders and manufacturers – in early access to this vaccine, lives are at stake, every day.”
The WHO 2018 report further indicates that malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa with 11 million pregnant women being infected.
In 2020, nearly half a million African children died from malaria or one child died of malaria every minute.
The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health and malaria control, Dr Moeti concluded.
According to Gavi, based on most recent data, more than 30 countries have geographic areas with moderate to high Plasmodium falciparum malaria transmission where the vaccine could potentially provide additional protection against malaria to more than 25 million children per year.
Most of the affected countries are currently eligible to receive support from Gavi to facilitate vaccine introductions, including the new malaria vaccine.
The vaccine group indicated that the first application deadline is slated for September 2022. A second window open to other eligible malaria-endemic countries will close in January 2023.