Malaria remains a major health challenge, especially for Kenya and other developing countries, where it has been a major killer for years. But there is some good news. In the next few weeks, the country will roll out a malaria vaccine for children, as part of a global campaign to stop Africa's biggest killer. This week, the vaccine was launched in Malawi, with the goal of vaccinating nearly 360,000 children every year until 2022.
The other country picked two years ago to pilot the vaccine is Ghana. The Sh5 billion allocated for the first phase underscores the seriousness of this campaign by Gavi, the Global Fund and other agencies to fight Aids, tuberculosis and malaria. The World Health Organisation is working with the Health ministries of the three countries to ensure that the anti-malaria campaign succeeds.
With more than 250,000 children dying in Africa from malaria, this is, indeed, a grave threat that calls for a global campaign backed with adequate financial and human resources. In Kenya, malaria remains a major cause of deaths, with more than 70 per cent of the population at risk. There are 3.5 million new cases and 10,700 deaths each year, and western Kenya has an especially high risk. What is really encouraging is that in the clinical trials, the vaccine was found to prevent four out of 10 malaria cases, and three out of 10 life-threatening severe malaria cases.
Malaria is a preventable and curable disease. Awareness and precaution are vital for prevention. The WHO wants the vaccine used alongside other preventive measures such as treated bed nets, insecticides, repellents and antimalarial drugs. Draining stagnant water pools and clearing bushes near homes destroys potential breeding grounds, as the disease is caused by a parasite, transmitted by the bite of infected mosquitoes.