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Sierra Leone Gets first Malaria Vaccine

“No Child Should Die from Malaria Infection,” Dr. Austin Demby

Health Minister, Dr. Austin Demby, shakes hands with the UNICEF Representative after receiving the vaccines at the Lungi International Airport on Friday.

The government of Sierra Leone, through the Ministry of Health, on Friday received 550,000 doses of the new WHO-recommended malaria vaccines, the RTS,S. Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, funded the project to the tune of $US5.5 million after its board approved 1.7M doses for Sierra Leone for 2024 to 2025. UNICEF did the procurement.

The shipment was received by the Minister of Health, Dr. Austin Demby, and representatives from UNICEF and WHO at the Lungi International Airport.

“With the new safe and efficacious Malaria vaccines, we now have an additional tool to fight Malaria,” Minister Demby said.

He went on, “in combination with insecticide treated nets, effective diagnosis and treatment, indoor spraying, no child should die from malaria infection.”

The new doses of the WHO approved RTS,S malaria vaccines kept under the required temperature at the central medical store in Freetown.

In Sierra Leone, malaria is the leading cause of morbidity with over two million hospital visits per year and one million of these cases are reported among children under five years. This preventable disease also accounts for 25% of all child deaths in the country.

But malaria is not only a Sierra Leone problem, it is a global health challenge with Africa suffering the brunt of it. In 2021, UNICEF estimated that there were 247 million cases globally, causing 619,000 deaths. Of these deaths, 77 percent were children under five mostly in Africa. The disease burden is highest on the continent, accounting for approximately 95% of global cases and 96% of related deaths in 2021.

Now, there is a global scale-up effort of vaccination against the disease across highest-risk areas and Sierra Leone, one of the high-risk countries, is among the first in Africa to receive this new vaccine. The shipment now means that the country has the required foundation to kickstart its vaccination through Gavi-supported routine immunization programmes in the first quarter of 2024.

The new malaria vaccines being loaded into a truck after arriving at the Lungi International Airport last Friday.

Dr. Desmond Maada Kangbai is the Programme Manager on the Expanded Programme on Immunization for the Ministry of Health. He tells us more in this explainer.


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