By Amin Kef (Ranger)
Sierra Leone has reached a crucial juncture in its fight against malaria with the arrival of a groundbreaking shipment of the WHO-endorsed malaria vaccine. Collaborating with the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and Gavi, Sierra Leone marked December 15, 2023, as a monumental day as more than 550,000 doses of the WHO-approved malaria vaccine were received.
Led by Dr. Innocent Bright Nuwagira, the WHO Country Representative, and joined by key figures such as Health Minister, Dr. Austin Demby, along with Deputy Ministers Dr. Charles Senessie and Dr. Jalikatu Mustapha, Sierra Leone welcomed this shipment as a pivotal moment in its battle against malaria, a disease significantly impacting public health in Africa.
Joining the ranks of Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Niger, and Uganda, Sierra Leone is set to integrate this vaccine into its routine immunization programs. Building upon successful implementations in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi, where over 1.7 million children have received the vaccine since 2019 through the Malaria Vaccine Implementation Program (MVIP), Sierra Leone aims to replicate this success.
The initial allocation of 18 million doses, facilitated by WHO, Gavi, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, UNICEF, and Unitaid, signifies a pivotal step in extending this life-saving intervention to Sierra Leone’s vulnerable populations. In tandem with the vaccine, Sierra Leone remains committed to employing preventive measures like insecticide-treated bed nets (ITNs) and widespread malaria testing.
With over two million annual hospital visits attributed to malaria in Sierra Leone, the arrival of these vaccines promises a transformative reduction in hospital visits, admissions, and most critically, malaria-related deaths.
The significance of this WHO-approved malaria vaccine transcends its immediate impact; it represents a beacon of hope for families and communities, heralding a breakthrough in child health and survival. The initial doses are strategically prioritized for the most vulnerable children, aiming to address health disparities and safeguard young lives.
Dr. Demby, the Health Minister, highlighted, “The high demand for the vaccine and the strong reach of childhood immunization will increase equity in access to malaria prevention and save many young lives. We will work tirelessly to increase supply until all children at risk have access.”
Dr. Innocent Nuwagira, the WHO Representative, affirmed the vaccine’s WHO approval and encouraged its widespread acceptance for optimized use. He assured continuous support from WHO in planning, preparations, and the rollout of the vaccine in early 2024, underscoring its potential as a game-changer in Sierra Leone’s malaria fight.
This support from WHO aligns with substantial technical and financial aid received from GAVI, GIZ, WHO AFRO, and others. These efforts include aiding the government’s reactive campaign against measles, conducting an EPI Comprehensive review, supporting a population-based EPI Survey, mass distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets, and establishing the Child Health Program, all aimed at reducing child and maternal deaths in Sierra Leone.
As Sierra Leone gears up for the early 2024 rollout of the malaria vaccine, the nation remains united in its dedication to shaping a healthier, malaria-free future for its children. The collaboration between global organizations and local authorities stands as a testament to the potency of collective action in advancing global health initiatives.