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Nigeria Excluded as Anti-Malaria Vaccine Shipment Commences in African Nations

In a notable omission concerning the country with the highest malaria burden globally, the shipment of the groundbreaking World Health Organization (WHO)-recommended malaria vaccine (RTS,S) has officially commenced. The initial delivery, comprising 331,200 doses, landed in Yaoundé, Cameroon, on Tuesday night, marking a historic moment for malaria prevention in Africa.

The joint press statement issued by Vaccine Alliance, Gavi, WHO, and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) disclosed that this shipment represents the first phase of delivering the malaria vaccine to a country not previously involved in the malaria vaccine pilot program. The move signals the imminent scale-up of vaccination efforts against malaria in the most high-risk areas across the African continent.

Despite Nigeria being conspicuously absent from the current shipment, it’s crucial to acknowledge the severe malaria crisis within the country. Nigeria bears the highest malaria burden globally, with approximately 95% of global malaria cases and 96% of related deaths reported in 2021 occurring on the African continent.

The joint statement revealed that an additional 1.7 million doses of the RTS,S vaccine are anticipated to arrive in Burkina Faso, Liberia, Niger, and Sierra Leone in the coming weeks. Moreover, several other African countries are in advanced stages of preparation for the introduction of the malaria vaccine into routine immunization programs, with the first doses expected to be administered in Q1 2024.

Implementing any new vaccine into essential immunization programs demands comprehensive preparations, including training healthcare workers, enhancing infrastructure, building technical capacity, ensuring proper vaccine storage, community engagement, and managing demand. The unique challenge of the four-dose schedule for the malaria vaccine requires meticulous planning for effective delivery.

Since 2019, Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi have been at the forefront of administering the malaria vaccine in a four-dose schedule to children from approximately five months of age in selected districts. This initiative, known as the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme (MVIP), has reached over two million children, resulting in a notable 13% decrease in all-cause mortality in eligible age children. Additionally, there have been substantial reductions in severe malaria illness and hospitalizations, demonstrating the impactful outcomes of the program.

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