Shipments to African countries, including Sierra Leone, herald final steps toward broader vaccination against malaria.

15 December 2023
Malaria vaccines on pallets
unicefsierraleone/2023/Mason
The first-ever shipment of Malaria vaccines to Sierra Leone
  • More than 550,000 doses of WHO-recommended RTS,S malaria vaccines procured by UNICEF with the support of Gavi, have arrived in Sierra Leone – a historic step towards broader vaccination against one of the deadliest diseases for African children.
  • The Malaria burden is high in Sierra Leone as it accounts for over two million hospital visits per year, of which children under-five years of age account for one million of these cases. This preventable disease also accounts for 25 per cent of child deaths in the country.
  • This shipment worth US$ 5.5, signals that Sierra Leone will now lay the groundwork to begin vaccinations through Gavi-supported routine immunization programmes in Q1 2024.

GENEVA/NEW YORK/COPENHAGEN, FREETOWN – Shipment of the world’s first WHO-recommended malaria vaccine, RTS,S, has arrived in Sierra Leone. This delivery of 550,000 doses worth US$ 5.5 million, follows the shipment of over 330,000 doses to Cameroon, the first country to receive apart from those previously involved in the malaria vaccine pilot programme. These shipments signal that scale-up of vaccination against malaria across the highest-risk areas on the African continent will begin shortly.

Nearly every minute, a child under five dies of malaria. In 2021, there were 247 million malaria cases globally, which led to 619,000 deaths. Of these deaths, 77 percent were children under five years of age, mostly in Africa. The Malaria burden is highest on the African continent, which accounts for approximately 95% of global malaria cases and 96% of related deaths in 2021. Malaria is among the leading causes of morbidity in Sierra Leone, with over two million hospital visits attributed to the disease annually, of which one million cases are of children under five years of age.

A further 1.7 million doses of the RTS,S vaccine were allocated to Burkina Faso, Liberia and Niger, with additional African countries set to receive doses in the months ahead. This reflects the fact that several countries are now in the final stage of preparations for malaria vaccine introduction into routine immunisation programmes, which should see first doses administered in Q1 2024.

Comprehensive preparations are needed to introduce any new vaccine into essential immunisation programmes – such as training healthcare workers, investing in infrastructure, technical capacity, vaccine storage, community engagement and demand, and sequencing and integrating rollout alongside the delivery of other vaccines and health interventions. Delivering the malaria vaccine has the added challenge of a four-dose schedule which requiring careful planning to effectively deliver.

These developments mean that broad implementation of malaria vaccination in endemic regions has the potential to be a gamechanger for malaria control efforts and could save tens of thousands of lives each year. However, malaria vaccines are not a standalone solution. They should be introduced in the context of the WHO-recommended package of malaria control measures which include insecticide-treated nets, indoor residual spraying, intermittent preventive treatment in pregnant women, antimalarials, effective case management, and treatment, all of which have helped to reduce malaria-related deaths since 2000. Importantly, the MVIP showed that delivering vaccines alongside non-vaccine interventions can reinforce the uptake of other vaccines and the use of insecticide treated nets, and overall boost access to malaria prevention measures.

“The world needs good news – and this a good news story,” said David Marlow, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance. “Gavi is proud that our Alliance of stakeholders, with African countries at the forefront, took the decision to invest in the malaria vaccine as a public health priority, and that this support has played a part in the availability of a new tool that can save the lives of thousands of children each year. We are excited to rollout this historic vaccine through Gavi programmes and work with partners to ensure it is delivered alongside other vital measures.”

“This could be a real gamechanger in our fight against malaria,” said UNICEF Executive Director Catherine Russell. “Introducing vaccines is like adding a star player to the pitch. With this long-anticipated step, spearheaded by African leaders, we are entering a new era in immunization and malaria control, hopefully saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of children every year.”

“This is another breakthrough moment for malaria vaccines and malaria control, and a ray of light in a dark time for so many vulnerable children in the world. The delivery of malaria vaccines to new countries across Africa will offer life-saving protection to millions of children at risk of malaria,” said WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “But we must not stop here. Together, we must find the will and the resources to bring malaria vaccines to scale, so more children can live longer, healthier lives.”

“Today’s announcement is welcome news given that malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa,” said Peter Sands, Executive Director of the Global Fund. “Using this vaccine, appropriately prioritized in the context of existing tools, could help prevent malaria and save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”

Notes to editors

Please explore links below for photos and multimedia content related to malaria vaccines, including photos and footage of the vaccines on the move from the GSK factory, and arriving in Cameroon.  Additional content will continue to be added in the coming days and weeks.

For more information on these shipments and next steps, please see “Frequently Asked Questions”.

About Gavi

Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance is a public-private partnership that helps vaccinate more than half the world’s children against some of the world’s deadliest diseases. The Vaccine Alliance brings together developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization, UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry, technical agencies, civil society, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other private sector partners. View the full list of donor governments and other leading organisations that fund Gavi’s work here

Since its inception in 2000, Gavi has helped to immunise a whole generation – over 1 billion children – and prevented more than 17.3 million future deaths, helping to halve child mortality in 78 lower-income countries. Gavi also plays a key role in improving global health security by supporting health systems and outbreak response as well as funding global stockpiles for Ebola, cholera, meningococcal and yellow fever vaccines. After two decades of progress, Gavi is now focused on protecting the next generation, above all the zero-dose children who have not received even a single vaccine shot. The Vaccine Alliance employs innovative finance and the latest technology – from drones to biometrics – to save lives, prevent outbreaks before they can spread and help countries on the road to self-sufficiency.

Learn more at www.gavi.org and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter

About UNICEF

UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone. For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org. Find out more about UNICEF’s work on the COVID-19 vaccines here, or about UNICEF’s work on immunization here.

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About WHO

Dedicated to the well-being of all people and guided by science, the World Health Organization leads and champions global efforts to give everyone, everywhere an equal chance at a safe and healthy life. We are the UN agency for health that connects nations, partners and people on the front lines in 150+ locations – leading the world’s response to health emergencies, preventing disease, addressing the root causes of health issues and expanding access to medicines and health care. Our mission is to promote health, keep the world safe and serve the vulnerable. www.who.int   

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UNICEF
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