For centuries, malaria has cast a dark shadow over Africa, claiming countless lives, particularly among children. Each year, over 400,000 succumb to this devastating disease, with children under five bearing the brunt of the burden. According to UNICEF, a child dies from malaria every two minutes, highlighting the urgency of finding solutions.
However, a glimmer of hope shines on the horizon. On January 22nd, 2024, Cameroon became the first African nation to introduce the RTS,S malaria vaccine into its national immunization program, marking a historic moment in the fight against this deadly disease. This milestone follows successful pilot programs in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi, and signifies a significant step towards a malaria-free Africa.
Developed by GSK and endorsed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2021, the RTS,S vaccine holds immense promise. While not a “silver bullet,” it offers a powerful weapon in the fight against malaria, complementing existing prevention and control measures like bed nets, spraying, and medication. Studies show the vaccine’s effectiveness, with the potential to prevent 40% of malaria cases and 30% of severe cases among children receiving the four-dose regimen. Additionally, it can reduce hospitalizations by 19% and blood transfusions by 29%.
Cameroon’s rollout is part of a larger initiative to scale up vaccination across high-risk areas in Africa. At least 29 countries plan to introduce the vaccine, with 20 already receiving Gavi support for 2024 rollout. The ambitious goal is to reach 100 million children by 2025, potentially saving 200,000 lives.
This achievement reflects the combined power of science, innovation, and collaboration. The RTS,S vaccine’s development spanned 30 years, involving countless scientists, healthcare workers, volunteers, donors, and partners. It showcases how African nations, with international support, can lead the way in tackling health challenges.
Furthermore, the success story of Cape Verde offers even greater hope. In 2023, it became the first African country declared malaria-free by WHO, reporting zero indigenous cases for three consecutive years. This remarkable feat was achieved through a comprehensive strategy encompassing political commitment, surveillance, vector control, community engagement, and cross-border collaboration, demonstrating that malaria elimination is attainable.
Cape Verde’s success shows that malaria elimination is possible, even in a region where the disease is endemic and the parasite is highly resistant to drugs. It also shows that malaria elimination is not only a health goal, but also a development goal, as it can unlock the potential of millions of people to live healthier, happier and more productive lives.
The launch of the malaria vaccine in Cameroon and the elimination achievement in Cape Verde stand as powerful testaments that should inspire and motivate us to accelerate efforts towards ending this ancient scourge. With the right tools, knowledge, and unwavering will, we can make malaria history, paving the way for a brighter future for Africa and the world.