Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa in a statement on Thursday said 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.
“This situation underlines once again why expanded local production of vaccines is essential for meeting health needs in Africa. We’ve seen encouraging first steps in that direction in recent months, and we are committed to supporting further efforts to expand vaccine production in Africa,” she said
She said the news about Gavi’s multi-million dollar funding to countries to expand access to the world’s only malaria vaccine marks a key advance in Africa’s most severe public health problem.
Thabani Maphosa, Gavi’s Managing Director of Country Programmes noted that while the vaccines will save lives, the challenge is how to ensure that their supply meets demand. He said the introduction of a malaria vaccine is a historic achievement.
Professor Rose Leke, a malaria disease expert from the University of Yaounde in Cameroon, says that the long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for sciences, child health, and malaria control.
“It is projected that at scale using this vaccine could save tens of thousands of young lives each year, but we will need an increased supply of the vaccine so Africa can reap the benefits of this additional tool for malaria prevention,” said Leke.
Professor Leke was the co-chair of the expert group that advised WHO on a framework to allocate the currently limited malaria vaccine supply.
Malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2020, nearly half a million African children died from malaria – or 1 child died of malaria every minute.
Since the world’s first malaria vaccine was introduced in 2019, it has been well accepted in African communities after a relatively short period of time.
Demand is high even in the context of COVID-19: vaccination performance for the first dose is reaching between 73% to over 90% coverage, depending on the country, with no major disruptions during the pandemic.
To date, about 1.3 million children have benefited from the vaccine in the three African pilot countries.
“Throughout the pandemic, when routine health services faced myriad challenges, parents and caregivers diligently brought their children to clinics and health posts to get the malaria vaccine.
They know all too well that lives are being lost to malaria every day and are eager to protect their children from this deadly disease.” Said Moeti
The opening of the application window follows the WHO’s recommendation for wider routine use of the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine in October 2021 and a subsequent decision by the Gavi Board in December 2021 to approve an initial investment of US$ 155.7 million for the 2022–2025 period.
Malaria vaccination was additionally supported by a US$ 56 million investment through a “de-risk” agreement with manufacturer GSK and innovative financing partner MedAccess.
In recognition of the technical requirements of rollout and the need to provide tailored support to countries, a first application window, which closes on 13 September, will be limited to the three countries that have taken part in the vaccine’s multi-year pilot programme: Kenya, Ghana and Malawi.
A second window, which opens at the end of the year and closes in January, is open to other countries with moderate to high transmission of Plasmodium falciparum malaria. These countries can already submit expressions of interest (EoIs) during the first funding window to signal interest and provide them with the needed support to submit quality applications.
The introduction of the RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine builds on successful implementation pilots and will be the first-ever widespread malaria vaccination programme.
Alongside currently recommended malaria control interventions – and alongside these existing protections, it could help drive down child mortality in Africa, the continent that bears the heaviest malaria burden.
More than 260,000 African children under the age of five years old die from malaria annually, and six Gavi-eligible countries account for 50% of global mortality.
Alongside the World Health Organization (WHO) announcement of finalization of the vaccine allocation framework to facilitate transparent and equitable allocation of limited vaccine supplies and UNICEF’s procurement agreement for the RTS,S vaccine.