Rwanda will not relax from implementing existing strategies to fight malaria despite a new scientific breakthrough in having a malaria vaccine after thirty years of research.
Rwanda’s State Minister of health in charge of Primary Healthcare, Dr. Tharcisse Mpunga made the remarks while responding to the World Health Organization (WHO) Wednesday announcement of the first-ever malaria vaccine known as RTS, S (Mosquirix).
The vaccine can be used as a vaccine for malaria among children under the age of 5.
This comes after a decision by the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts in Immunization (SAGE) and the Malaria Policy Advisory Group (MPAG) resolved to back the widespread deployment of the vaccine following trials in Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi.
The vaccine which is also attributed to Africa is an incredible work of research and participation by the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) and contribution by children in Kericho, Kisumu, and Kilifi in Kenya among other communities in Africa.
WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said Wednesday that the breakthrough was a historic moment.
“The long-awaited malaria vaccine for children is a breakthrough for science, child health, and malaria control,” Ghebreyesus said.
“Using this vaccine on top of existing tools to prevent malaria could save tens of thousands of young lives each year.”
Dr. Mpunga told the national broadcaster that Rwanda welcomes the breakthrough which is a milestone in healthcare but the country will push on with existing prevention practices to sustain the achievements made in curbing malaria.
Dr. Mpunga said that the malaria jab is effective and can protect children from malaria at a 70% level but is also trusted in reducing cases of malaria-related deaths, which will contribute to what Rwanda is aiming at.
“This won’t take away existing measures of prevention such as using mosquito nets and spraying but it is an additional effort especially for children who are prone to malaria,” Mpunga said.
Malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa. More than 260 000 African children under the age of five die from malaria annually.
In Rwanda, ending malaria has been given a high priority with country efforts mainly funded by Global Fund (GF).
Through efficiency and data use, the Government extended external and Indoor residual spraying (IRS) in 12 high malaria burden districts where more than 70% of malaria cases come from.
The country further deployed LLINs based on mosquito resistance evidence with introduction of a new generation of LLINs (PBO and G2 Nets).
Rwanda also scaled up Home-Based Management of Malaria to all ages and in all districts for early diagnosis and treatment by Community Health Workers (currently 56% of all malaria are managed by CHWs).
In 2020, Rwanda piloted the use of drones for spray of mosquito repellants in collaboration with Private Operators (CHARIS and SFH Rwanda); introduced Mosquito Repellent Products through social marketing.
With all these combined efforts, Rwanda recorded a drop in malaria incidence from 400 per 1000 in 2016 to 148 per 1000 in 2020. Rwanda continued to witness a decrease in malaria cases from 4.8 million in 2017 to 1.8 million in 2020, a decrease in severe malaria from 18,000 in 2016 to 3,000 in 2020. Malaria-related deaths decreased from 700 in 2016 to 148 deaths in 2020.
This malaria jab breakthrough comes at a time when Rwanda has been selected among four African countries that will start producing vaccines; including malaria and COVID-19, on the continent.
According to Mpunga, this will be an additional effort to ensure equitable access and distribution of the malaria vaccine in Rwanda and the continent, an issue that has been of concern from the experience of COVID-19 in Africa.