Malaria vaccine: Key to reducing malaria infections in children

For Agnes Owusu, a mother of three, it was the near-death of her third child that really made her to feel the devastative impacts of malaria, particularly on children. She recounts how she spent her last year’s Christmas at the hospital in Accra, treating her one-and-half-year-old child of malaria.

Agnes lives with her husband and three children in an uncompleted building at Petuo Junction at Nsakina, a suburb of Nsakina in the Ga West Municipality of the Greater Accra region. They are caretakers of the uncompleted building.

With the building cited in a marshy area surrounded by patches of stagnant water, Agnes and her family are always at the mercy of breeding mosquitoes.

She explained that although the family sleeps under net, they are always bitten by mosquitoes before bedtime due to the exposed nature of their house.

“I wish we have money so that we can rent a new place and move from this place,” Agnes expressed her desire to move away from the area due to mosquitoes,  stressing that her children are her major worry.

“We all get malaria. But my children suffer more. I nearly lost the last born last year during the Christmas. I had to spend the year at the hospital,” she explained.

As fate would have it, it was her days at the children’s hospital that she got to know about the new malaria vaccine— RTS,S.

The RTS,S is the world’s first malaria vaccine that has been shown to reduce malaria cases in young children in 40 per cent of cases.

As part of the global efforts in fighting malaria infections and related deaths, particularly among children under five years, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and its partners introduced the RTS,S, targeting children from six months up to 2 years of age.

The vaccine is currently being piloted in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. In Ghana, for instance, the vaccine is being piloted in 47 districts.

Health experts say the new malaria vaccine for children is intended as a new complementary tool to be used alongside bed nets and residual spraying. It is expected that the RTS, S vaccine will be administered to at least one million children by 2023, hence helping to improve malaria control, particularly among children in Africa.

For Agnes, it was one of the doctors seeing her sick child who asked her if she had immunised her youngest child against malaria.

“When the doctor asked me about the vaccine, I told her I did know anything like that so she explained it to me and gave my son, his first dose,” she disclosed.

She said although her son has not completed all his four doses, she has seen a reduction of malaria infection in him.

“He is not falling sick like he used to be. I’m happy that my child is no more falling victim to malaria,” she stated.

Agnes has, therefore, encouraged parents particularly those with new babies to get their babies vaccinated.

“Malaria can easily kill your child. It is better to get them vaccinated,” she suggested to parents.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that in Ghana, about 20 percent of all children have malaria parasites in their blood.

Since the introduction of the vaccine in 2019, more than 650,000 children in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi have received at least one dose of the malaria vaccine.

By Benedicta Gyimaah Folley

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