Children in Ghana are starting to get a new vaccine designed to stop malaria. Ghana is the second African country to get the vaccine, which is expected to reduce cases of the mosquito-borne and sometimes fatal disease. But experts caution that other malaria-prevention measures are still necessary.
It took more than thirty years and almost one billion dollars to develop the malaria vaccine launched in Ghana today.
The vaccine, known as RTS-S, reduces cases of the mosquito-spread disease in children by up to 40 percent.
Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi are participating in a pilot vaccination program, which began last week in Malawi. Over the next four years about one million babies are expected to be vaccinated with four doses of RTS-S.
Cape Coast is a city in one of three regions Ghana is targeting due to high levels of malaria.
The vaccine is considered an additional tool in the fight against the disease, alongside bed nets and indoor insecticide spraying. The World Health Organization’s Richard Mihigo said the vaccine is needed because progress has stalled in recent years.
“This is really something we are considering in public health as a dream coming true, because so far when you look at the intervention that has been used to fight the disease, we believe that this new vaccine is going to add a significant boost to the fight against malaria,” he said.
The WHO says malaria infected 219 million people in 2017 and killed 435,000.
The disease remains one of the world’s leading killers, claiming the life of one child every two minutes. Most of these deaths are in Africa and more than a quarter million of them are children.
Ghanaian officials launched the vaccination program Tuesday with patients from the Ewim Polyclinic in Cape Coast. The clinic serves low-income Ghanaians, many of whom live in cramped conditions and prefer to sleep outside, where they are vulnerable to mosquito bites.
Since 2016 the clinic has seen over a thousand cases of malaria each year in children under five.
Nurse Agnes Morgue-Duncan is hopeful the vaccine will protect children and help eradicate malaria.
"Our communities are the main fisherfolks and there are a lot of people. We have a densely populated area. So sometimes you will see one room and so many people in one room and sometimes they mostly sleep outside before getting inside, so automatically or definitely they will be bitten by the mosquito and infected," said Morgue-Duncan.
The vaccine will be rolled out in Kenya in the coming weeks, and doctors will watch closely to see if malaria rates decline.