Malaria continues to be one of the biggest killers in the world and piles pressure on health facilities.
Children under the age of five in sub-Saharan Africa are especially vulnerable, accounting for about two thirds of all global deaths.
In recent years, Malawi has made progress in the fight against malaria using core disease-cutting tools such as insecticide-treated mosquito nets, indoor spraying and anti-malarial medicines.
But in areas where these approaches have been adopted, malaria-related illnesses and deaths remain stubbornly high.
In a village called Tayawaka in Traditional Authority (T/A) Timbili, Nkhata Bay District, lives Edrifa Kanyika.
Kanyika had six children, four boys and two girls. The woman did everything possible to protect her children from any danger but something still happened.
She lost one of her children to malaria.
“Malaria is very dangerous. It took my child’s life. I have been to the hospital several times because of the disease. It is sad that such a preventable and curable disease continues to kill many people.
“Now, there is a new vaccine for children. I am happy about that,” Kanyika says.
She adds that her under-five child has not had malaria since he started getting the vaccine.
“It is incredible that a home that was known for being vulnerable to malaria no longer suffers from the disease. I wish the vaccine was there when my child fell sick and died. He would been alive,” she says.
The Ministry of Health and Population introduced the vaccine in April this year in 11 districts.
The vaccine is being administered in four intramuscular doses to under-five children. The first dose is given to five-month-olds, the second to six-month-olds, the third to seven-month-olds while the fourth dose is given at 22 months.
Rose Kondwani from Chilemba Village, T/A Chowe in Mangochi District says she was sceptical about the vaccine.
“That is often the case with a new initiative. I was worried that the vaccine might cause problems to my daughter,” Kondwani says.
Her daughter has so far received four doses and has been safer ever since she got her first dose.
“It is refreshing for me as a mother to have children who are healthy. Raising such children is easy. Malaria has been a very big problem in my area. We used to seek help from traditional healers,” she says.
Kondwani adds that doctors told her the vaccine was effective when a child receives all the four doses.
Chikwawa is one of the districts providing the new malaria vaccine, at Beleu Health Centre, where they have registered a reduction in malaria cases in under-five children.
Denis Nkuna, Senior Health Surveillance Assistant at the facility, explains that 93 percent of children in the health centre’s catchment area have been vaccinated.
“When the vaccine was introduced in April, we only managed to vaccinate five children as most mothers were afraid of the vaccine. In May, we managed to reach the targeted number of 40 and, in June, we reached out to 76 children,” Nkuna says.
Malawi, Ghana and Kenya are carrying out the malaria vaccine implementation programme with support from the World Health Organisation.
According to National Coordinator for Malaria Programme, John Sande, in Malawi the Expanded Programme on Immunisation is leading to the phased introduction of malaria vaccine.
Sande says they aim to vaccinate at least 120,000 children per year for three years.
“The malaria vaccine acts against the most deadly and most common malaria parasite in Africa, Plasmodium Falciparum. The vaccine was developed for children because they are at highest risk of dying from malaria.
“Since we embarked on this journey in April this year, we have not registered any case of side-effects apart from normal ones that happen when a child receives any vaccine,” Sande says.
Among children who received four doses in a large–scale clinical trial, the malaria vaccine prevented approximately four in 10 cases of malaria and three in 10 cases of life-threatening severe malaria over a four-year period.