By Asmau Ahmad
Society for Family Health (SFH) has expressed concern over non-inclusion of Nigeria in list of selected African countries to benefit from malaria vaccine roll out.
The society’s concern was expressed in a statement issued by Dr Jennifer Anyanti, the Deputy Managing Director, Strategic Technical Growth (STG) in Abuja on Friday.
The Director-General of World Health Organisation (WHO), Tedros Ghebreyesus, had on Thursday said he was pleased that together with Gavi and UNICEF, the Organisation would announce the allocation of 18 million doses of the RTS, S vaccine to 12 countries in Africa.
The Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme countries — Ghana, Kenya and Malawi will receive doses to continue vaccination in pilot areas, while new allocations will go to Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi and Cameroon.
Others are Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Niger, Sierra Leone and Uganda.
The countries will receive 18 million doses of the malaria vaccine for children under the age of five years, to be administered in a span of two years.
According to the WHO boss, mosquitoes that carry diseases are increasing in density and spreading further afield as climate crisis change weather patterns.
He added that “malaria remains one of Africa’s deadliest diseases, killing nearly half a million children under the age of five every year, and accounting for approximately 96 per cent of global malaria deaths in 2021.
“As the first vaccine against malaria, the RTS, S vaccine has now been delivered to more than 1.6 million children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi.”
Ghebreyesus said it has been shown to be safe and effective, resulting in substantial reduction in severe malaria and a fall in child deaths.
According to him, other positives worth noting is that at least 28 African countries have expressed interest in receiving the RTS, S vaccine.
He said that a second vaccine is currently under review for pre-qualification and if successful, it would provide additional supply in the short-term.
However, the SFH deputy managing director noted with dismay that Nigeria, with huge malaria burden in Africa, did not make the list of countries to benefit from the vaccine rollout.
According to the latest World Malaria Report, there were 247 million cases of malaria in 2021 compared to 245 million cases in 2020. The estimated number of malaria deaths stood at 619,000 in 2021 compared to 625,000 in 2020.
Anyanti, therefore, stated that “it is disheartening that Nigeria, accounting for almost one-third of Africa’s malaria prevalence, is left out of the vaccine roll-out.
“With 12 African countries now rolling out the RTS, S/AS01 first ever malaria vaccine and over 18 million doses given to the countries, early insights show inequities and vital lessons for the continent as the country contributing the highest prevalence is left out.
“We at Society for Family Health acknowledge and celebrate the major step in the scale-up of the RTS, S/AS01 first-ever malaria vaccine in the countries in which we operate (Ghana, Liberia, and Sierra Leone).
“However, it is disheartening to learn that the country that presently accounts for almost one-third of Africa’s malaria prevalence and 27 per cent of global malaria burden is left behind (Nigeria) and not included in the maiden roll-out.”
The deputy managing director explained that between 2000 and 2023, SFH played a great role to reach over 100 million Africans through various interventions such as routine Insecticides Treated Nets (ITN) campaigns, indoor residual sprayings and seasonal malaria treatment.
Others are the provision of affordable life-saving medications and testing kits.
“SFH was recently part of the world’s largest mosquito net campaign which was supported by Global Fund in Nigeria.
“For over 50 years, the world faced the challenge of developing a vaccine against malaria, the development of the vaccine provides an opportunity to deal with this global health burden gradually and systematically.
“It’s roll-out should serve children in greatest need of protection from the world’s deadliest malaria parasite.
“Regrettably, while we celebrate this historic moment, we also share our reservations that Nigeria with the highest burden of malaria cases globally is not among the initial recipient of the vaccine.
“The country has made significant progress toward achieving the End-Malaria target as a global threat by 2030.
“Unfortunately, Nigeria as a non-recipient of the maiden roll-out of the vaccine will have a huge negative impact on this response and the global efforts at eliminating malaria and saving thousands of lives.”
She called on GAVI, the Africa CDC, WHO, UNICEF and other donors to make a comprehensive review of their distribution plan to ensure that children in Nigeria who suffered the brunt of malaria burden benefitted from the roll out.