Kenya strengthens fight against malaria with new vaccine

September 13, 2019 by Ben Aliwa

Following Malawi and Ghana, Kenya becomes the third country to introduce the world's first malaria vaccine, a new tool for child health and improved malaria control.

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Elian waits with his mother to receive the new malaria vaccine through the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Programme. Photo: PATH.

In recent years, Kenya has made tremendous progress in the fight against malaria through the scale-up of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor residual spraying, and appropriate diagnosis and treatment using artemisinin-based combination therapies.

From 2010 to 2015, these efforts helped reduce the proportion of people affected by malaria from 11 percent to eight percent. However, the burden of malaria remains high in some parts of the country. For example, according to the 2015 Kenya Malaria Indicator Survey, 27 percent of children younger than 15 years old were found to be positive for malaria in the endemic Lake Region. In 2016, malaria caused an estimated 3.5 million infections and just over 10,000 deaths in Kenya, overwhelming health facility capacity in endemic regions where malaria transmission is highest.

Promising new tool

But now a malaria vaccine, known as RTS,S, is available in certain areas of Kenya. This new tool offers an additional way to protect young children from the disease, which is among the top ten causes of illness and death and a leading killer of children under the age of five. Kenya is one of three African countries (alongside Ghana and Malawi) that is providing the vaccine to children through routine immunization as part of a phased introduction and evaluation. This process is coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO) and in collaboration with partners, including PATH and vaccine developer and manufacturer, GSK.

The vaccine, where it is available, is part of the package of recommended malaria prevention measures. When used alongside existing measures, such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets, the vaccine has the potential to save thousands of young lives in Kenya. The Ministry of Health, through the National Vaccines and Immunization Programme, is leading the phased introduction of the malaria vaccine in parts of the country where malaria transmission is highest and where the vaccine is expected to provide the greatest benefit.

As with other new vaccine introductions, this phased introduction is providing the National Vaccines and Immunization Programme and participating counties with valuable lessons that they can use to expand the use of the vaccine to all eligible populations. During phased introduction, the program hopes to vaccinate at least 120,000 children per year in Kenya in the selected areas. The partners will determine how best to deliver the required four doses of the vaccine in routine settings, assess the vaccine’s full potential for reducing childhood deaths, and continue to monitor the vaccine for any unwanted side effects.

PATH’s mission is to advance health equity through innovation and partnership, and we are grateful for the wonderful partners with whom we have collaborated and who have contributed so much to bring the first malaria vaccine to this point. We have worked toward this day for close to 20 years—first partnering with vaccine developer and manufacturer GSK in 2001 to develop RTS,S for use in children. We look forward to continuing to support the vaccine’s introduction, helping to get this new intervention to the children who need it most.

The vaccine, where it is available, is part of the package of recommended malaria prevention measures.