BY RICHARD DRASIMAKU
ARUA: WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 13, 2021
Uganda is positioning to be the first country to adopt vaccines to combat malaria among children below five years, Dr Jimmy Opigo, an assistant commissioner in charge of malaria control programme has said.
Dr Opigo’s revelation follows the landmark announcement by the World Health Oganisation (WHO) last week where it recommended the RTS,S vaccine to be used for vaccination against malaria in infants on a wide scale.
RTS,S vaccine has been undergoing late stage trials in Kenya, Malawi and Ghana which have cumulatively administered 2.3 million doses of the vaccine to over 800,000 children.
The vaccine developed by scientists from the GSK laboratories in United Kingdom has been found to be effective in preventing malaria infection by 40% and significantly reducing severity of malaria by 30%.
WHO said in its advisory that the pilot programme will continue in order to understand the added value of the fourth dose and to measure the longer term impact on child deaths.
However, the global health regulator said in its next steps, it will be recommending for funding decision by global health community for broader roll-out and for country decision making on whether to adopt the vaccine as part of national malaria control strategy.
“Uganda is positioning to be the first country to adopt malaria vaccine,” Dr Opigo noted in a twitter post.
He added: “We have a robust EPI [expanded Programme of Immunisation] and health system to deliver,” reiterating a position recently stated by President Yoweri Museveni to the global malaria community.
The WHO indicated that it based its recommendation on advice of two global advisory bodies- one responsible for immunization and the other for malaria.
The vaccine is to be used for prevention of p.falciparum malaria in children living in moderate to high transmission areas through four doses provided to children from five months of age through the routine immunization systems.
P.falciparum is the most prevalent form of malaria in Africa which shoulders the heaviest burden of malaria in the world.
Continent wide, more than 260,000 children under the age of five die of malaria annually, WHO says.
In Uganda, health officials stress that malaria continues to account for the biggest number of visits to health facilities across the country, followed at a distance by other conditions such as respiratory tract infections, HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis, diarrheal and other vaccine-preventable diseases.
The ministry of health in a Malaria bulletin in 2016 said that malaria was the leading cause of deaths in Uganda, accounting for 27% of lives lost.
According to its weekly updates for late July and the month of August, 2021, the health ministry recorded a total of 633,188 confirmed cases of malaria and 86 deaths due to malaria across the health facilities in the country.
This total cumulative figure (633,188) from five weeks is five times more than the total cases of Coronavirus (Covid-19) recorded in Uganda since the pandemic landed at Entebbe International Airport abode an Ethiopian Airlines plane on March 21, 2020.
By afternoon on October 13, the display on the Ministry of Health Website indicated 123,445 Covid-19 positive cases, cumulatively recorded in almost 20 months of the pandemic.
The statistics for both Covid-19 and malaria does not take into account cases or deaths from homes whose records did not make it to the health facilities’ registers.
Health experts estimate that if the WHO succeeds in rallying the global community to provide funding to scale up the manufacturing of RTS,S and the government decides to adopt the vaccine as one of the tools to fight malaria, the vaccines could be available for wider roll-out by the end of 2022.
In the meantime, the country continues to rely on what is available to it to combat the disease i.e. test and treat malaria and use insecticide treated mosquito nets to thwart the vector.
As Dr Opigo in another twitter post explained: [Ministry of Health] deployed synergistic mosquito nets in Kyegegwa in keeping with the concept of prioritization of high burden areas to drive them impact. MOH is optimizing malaria interventions and moving away from one size fits all blanket action.”
Apparently he was responding to his permanent secretary, Dr Diana Atwine, who appeared surprised that malaria infection rate among the refugee community in that area had reduced form 65% to 20%.
But the officials' exchange shows that preventive measure with insecticide treated nets can produce positive results when used properly and the vaccine will be an added boon.