With the ongoing efforts to have a malaria-free world, ELIZABETH JOSEPH-WILLIAMS examines how introduction of a vaccine could be a ray of sunshine for this endemic situation in Nigeria.
Over the past one year, malaria is estimated to have probably caused four times as many deaths as Covid-19 in Africa according to a report by a director of the Jenner Institute, University of Oxford, Adrian Hill. And it will continue to be a concern after the ongoing pandemic.
A fashion designer, Edith Owen who has had multiple cases of malaria associates her malaria experience with the available treatments as unproductive. In her words, “Malaria treatment has taken a lot from me in terms of money and productivity. I’ve lost count of how many days in a year I’ve been rendered unproductive because I was down with Malaria.”
Halima Ahmed, a pregnant businesswoman based in Kano collaborates Edith’s experience but is hopeful that the malaria vaccine will be available in Nigeria before she has her baby. “If the vaccine is coming to Nigeria soon, that will be great for my baby. I’d love my unborn child to grow up without having to face the menace of malaria,” she reveals with a smile.
Indeed, after many interventions in malaria prevention, it appears a vaccine will be a great addition to the prevention efforts.
Malaria in Nigeria
Malaria is endemic all over Nigeria, there isn’t any one state that isn’t affected. 97% of Nigeria’s population is at risk of Malaria. In 2019, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Malaria report, Nigeria accounted for 23% of the Malaria deaths worldwide putting the country as one of the six countries accounting for approximately half of all malaria deaths worldwide.
Well known scientifically proven ways to prevent malaria include: Insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs); indoor residual spraying (IRS); intermittent preventive treatment for pregnant women (IPTp); and use of antimalarial medicines to prevent malaria. In addition, use of chemoprophylaxis is recommended for travellers to prevent malaria.
These preventive methods have already dramatically reduced the malaria disease burden across Africa, but some countries, including Nigeria have experienced a plateau as infections and death continue to be reported. WHO and partners have requested new tools, such as a malaria vaccine, to help get malaria control efforts back on track. “We need new solutions to get the malaria response back on track, and this vaccine gives us a promising tool to get there,” said WHO director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a document for the vaccines titled: ‘First Malaria Vaccine in Africa: A potential New Tool for Child Health and Improved Malaria Control’.
The World Health Organisation recognises RTS,S as the first and only vaccine that has been shown to reduce malaria, including life-threatening malaria in children. Proven results from clinical trials show that the vaccine prevented approximately four in 10 cases of malaria over a four-year period for children receiving 4 doses.
The Malaria Vaccine is currently being piloted by National Immunization Programmes in three African Countries – Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, in areas of moderate to high malaria transmission.
As the world celebrated the World Malaria Day on April 25th 2021, more than 1.7 million doses of the world’s first malaria vaccine (RTS,S) have been administered in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, and more than 650 000 children have benefited from the additional malaria protection it provides.
The results thus far with the malaria vaccine have been promising and while the pilot phases continue, it is hoped that other African countries, like Nigeria will benefit from the vaccine soon.
KEY FACTS (WHO)
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites that are transmitted to people through the bites of infected female Anopheles mosquitoes. It is preventable and curable.
In 2019, there were an estimated 229 million cases of malaria worldwide.
The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 409 000 in 2019.
Children aged under 5 years are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria; in 2019, they accounted for 67% (274 000) of all malaria deaths worldwide.
The WHO African Region carries a disproportionately high share of the global malaria burden. In 2019, the region was home to 94% of malaria cases and deaths.
Total funding for malaria control and elimination reached an estimated US$ 3 billion in 2019. Contributions from governments of endemic countries amounted to US$ 900 million, representing 31% of total funding.