Vaccines have been described as one of the greatest feats in medicine.
Ministry of Health spokesperson Adrian Chikumbe says, for example, that vaccines are one of the tools which the government is using to fight conditions such as Covid and diseases such as malaria, cholera and polio.
This year alone, the ministry and stakeholders have been administering vaccines for coronavirus, polio and cholera.
For example, After President Lazarus Chakwera declared a national public health emergency when the country confirmed a case of wild poliovirus in February, the United Nations Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) provided 6.9 million vaccine doses to Malawi.
The doses are enough for roughly 2.9 million children under the age of five.
Not just that, the United Nations agency assisted the ministry with the task of installing 223 new vaccine refrigerators, repairing 51 vaccine refrigerators and distributing 200 vaccine carriers and 38 cold boxes to health centres across the country.
“The use of potent and safe vaccines is of utmost importance. To ensure all health centres have the vaccines and that health surveillance assistants carry the doses deep into hard-to-reach areas, it is recommended that ice-lined refrigerators, deep freezers, and refrigerators maintain a temperature of ≥2° to ≤8° centigrade for Oral Polio Vaccines, hence the significance of ensuring a smooth cold chain linkage from the central source to the last beneficiary,” Ghanashyam Sethy, who is Unicef Malawi Health Specialist, indicated.
Chikumbe could not agree more, saying Malawi can use various vaccines, which are available in the country, to address some of the problems that diseases pose to the population.
As the polio vaccination exercise continues, Malawians have started preparing for a malaria vaccine administration exercise, with health experts expressing hope that administration of the same will culminate in a reduced out-patient rate by 40 percent.
The malaria vaccination programme, which is expected to be rolled out towards the end of this year, will become just another initiative where the government is facing one common enemy, namely disease, using the tool of vaccines.
For instance, Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda indicated, on World Malaria Day on April 25, that the vaccine will target children under-five years.
However, it will not be vaccine administration full throttle as the government will be working in phases.
In the first phase, under-five children will be targeted in Karonga, Nkhata Bay, Lilongwe, Ntchisi, Mchinji, Mangochi, Balaka, Machinja, Phalombe, Nsanje and Chikwawa districts.
“It is a new vaccine and, then, there are not many manufacturers of this vaccine. As such, they can, for now, only provide about 15 million doses across the globe against the need of 100 million doses,” Kandodo Chiponda said.
According to manufacturers’ guidelines, the first dose of the malaria vaccine will be given at five months of age, second dose at six months, the third one at seven months of age, with the last one at 22 months.
Malaria accounts for over 50 percent of hospital admissions of children and pregnant women; as such, the vaccine will, surely, go a long way in removing one more threat to Malawi’s healthcare service delivery efforts.
“We are targeting all the under-five children, which means we cannot have a specific number of targeted children because children are born every day,” the minister said.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO) acting Representative for Malawi, Janet Kayita, it is good that Malawi is taking part in the pilot phase of the initiative.
Kayita said the global body’s aim was to reduce cases of new malaria infection, thereby reducing the mortality rate.
“The malaria vaccine is a new tool for reducing new infections,” she said.
Health rights advocate George Jobe, who is also Malawi Health Equity Network Executive Director, was equally hopeful.
“If the vaccine is effectively administered, it would save the country’s health budget by preventing malaria infections that, for a long time, have been burdening healthcare service facilities.
“It will also complement the government’s efforts in addressing problems associated with malaria,” he said.
As at now, the Government of Malawi has distributed over nine million mosquito nets in the fight against malaria
In the pilot phase, children in Malawi, Ghana and Kenya received one or more doses of malaria vaccine launched in 2019.
WHO estimates that the malaria vaccine could save between 40,000 and 80,000 lives of African children every year.
According to the organisation, malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and deaths in Africa, with over 627,000 deaths a year.
As Malawians are preparing for the malaria vaccine, cholera vaccines are being administered in various parts of the country.
In May this year, the Ministry of Health’s Epidemiology Unit launched the Oral Cholera Vaccine Programme in Zingwangwa Township, Blantyre.
Blantyre District Council Director of Health and Social Services, Dr Gift Kawalazila, said Blantyre was on course to getting about one million doses targeting high-risk areas.
He said, with support from WHO, Unicef and partners, Blantyre has been conducting an oral cholera vaccination campaign targeting all adults and children from one year old upwards.
“This campaign brings a life-saving oral cholera vaccine to the people who need it most. However, community members should not ignore basic preventative measures,” Kawalazila said.
The targeted people will receive two doses of cholera vaccines two weeks apart.
WHO Health Emergencies Preparedness and Response Officer Dr Gertrude Chapotera said the organisation is working with other partners in providing support to Malawi so that it can reach out to 3.9 million people in high-risk districts across the country.
“Every death from cholera is preventable with the tools we have today. WHO commits to provide support to the Ministry of Health to implement immediate, long-term cholera control, including surveillance, outbreak response and preventive measures,” she said.
The Ministry of Health declared a cholera outbreak in Malawi on March 3 2022 following laboratory confirmation of a case in the country.
The country has registered over 332 cholera cases and 18 cases of death.
Envisioning a world where cholera is not a public health threat, the Global Taskforce on Cholera Control launched the Global Roadmap for Reducing cholera deaths by 90 Percent by 2030.
However, on other fronts, Malawi continues to grapple with the Covid threat, prompting the Ministry of Health to introduce Covid sentinel surveillance initiative targeting adults and under-five children.
It is part of efforts aimed at keeping tabs on changes in Covid infection rates.
In Blantyre, according to Public Health Institute of Malawi Covid Response Surveillance Manager Godwin Ulaya, 50 symptomatic patients and 25 asymptomatic patients from health facilities would be targeted in a survey aimed at gauging their immunity to coronavirus.
This will be done at Limbe Health Centre.
All these efforts, according to Kandodo Chiponda, are part of the government’s efforts to keep conditions such as Covid and diseases such as polio, cholera and malaria in check.
But, without life-saving vaccines, all these efforts would be of little consequence