DOUALA, Cameroon – The global fight against malaria took a stride forward on Jan 22 as Cameroon started the world’s first routine vaccine programme against the mosquito-borne disease, although Reuters journalists witnessed few people in clinics receiving the shot.
Around 40 years in the making, the World Health Organisation (WHO)-approved RTS,S vaccine developed by British drugmaker GSK is meant to work alongside existing tools such as bed nets to combat malaria, which in Africa kills nearly half a million children under the age of five each year.
After successful trials, including in Ghana and Kenya, Cameroon is the first country to administer doses through a routine programme that 19 other countries aim to roll out this year, according to global vaccine alliance Gavi.
About 6.6 million children in these countries are targeted for malaria vaccination through 2024-25.
“For a long time, we have been waiting for a day like this,” said Dr Mohammed Abdulaziz of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at a joint online briefing with the WHO, Gavi and other organisations.
Caroline Badefona, manager of Cliniques des Anges hospital in Douala, said five girls and one boy aged six months were vaccinated at her hospital on Jan 22.
“It went very well,” she said. “We are proud to have this programme in place because it will eradicate malaria in children aged six to 59 months.”
In a health centre in the northern Cameroon district of Datcheka, 12 children were vaccinated early on Jan 22, according to a Reuters reporter.
But health workers in other centres told Reuters that parents had not been adequately informed about the vaccine, and some were afraid to consent to their children receiving it.
Others were not even aware of the start of the campaign.
“The reason I didn’t accept is because I wasn’t made aware of it – I didn’t know it existed,” said Audrey Stella, a mother who declined to have her child vaccinated at the Japoma District Hospital in Douala.
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