More than 260,000 African children under the age of five die from malaria each year, including more than 10,000 in Kenya, according to the World Health Organization. The WHO’s backing of a malaria vaccine, Mosquirix, for children in sub-Saharan Africa has raised hopes of preventing those deaths. The vaccine proved effective in a pilot program in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi.
On Wednesday, the World Health Organization gave the green light for the use of the vaccine for children between five and 24 months of age in Africa and other regions prone to a high level of malaria transmission.
This follows trials of the vaccine in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. The four-dose shot was administered to 800,000 African children.
Thirty-year-old Salome Awuor allowed her son, now three years old, to take part in the malaria vaccine trials in Kisumu County, western Kenya.
The mother of four said previously she would visit her nearest clinic four times a month to get malaria treatment for him. At the time, he was 12 months old.
“My son was given three jabs, and malaria went down. I never went back to the clinic seeking malaria treatment. I feel so good my children no longer get sick most of the time. That's why whenever I hear about vaccines, I run to get them because it helps a lot,” she said.
WHO chief Tedros Ghebreyesus described the malaria vaccine breakthrough as historic and one that could save the lives of tens of thousands of young people each year.
According to the WHO, malaria affects more than 229 million people each year and kills more than 400,000.
In Africa, more than a quarter of a million children die from the mosquito-borne disease.
Earlier trials in 2015 showed the vaccine could prevent 40 percent of malaria cases and about 30 percent of severe cases.
Bernhards Ogutu is a chief researcher at Kenya Medical Research Institute. He said Kenya’s participation in the study proves the vaccine will work on the country’s population.
“If it's safe you know it was done in your population and you know it's good for you. You are not relying on data from another population but from your own population. So that you can confidently advise the government this is safe for us, it works and its approved and it was done by us and we contributed to this development,” he said.
The first three vaccine doses are given a month apart when children are babies, and a final booster is given when the child is one-and-a-half years old.
Ogutu has voiced confidence that Kenyan parents will vaccinate their children from malaria.
“People have been asking where it is now that we have been given the go ahead, we can now go for the rollout. I think it's time to get to our people and tell them now it's available and now it’s a matter of procuring the vaccine and ensuring it’s available and start getting it to those who need it,” said Ogutu.
So far, there is no word on when the vaccine will become available to the general public.