Stakeholders in the health sector in the South-West Zone say the World Health Organisation (WHO) endorsement of vaccine for malaria in children in sub-Saharan Africa, will reduce deaths and burden of the disease in Nigeria.
They made the assertions in separate interviews across the states in the zone, describing the vaccine endorsement by WHO as a welcome development.
Malaria is a common parasitic infection in Africa and sub-Saharan Africa. It remains a primary cause of childhood illness and deaths in the continent.
The WHO on Wednesday, October 6, 2021 endorsed the RTS,S/AS01 (RTS,S) malaria vaccine among children in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions with moderate to high malaria transmission.
The approval is based largely on the clinical trials carried out in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi where more than 800,000 children have received the vaccine since 2019.
According to the 2020 World Malaria Report, Nigeria had the highest number of global malaria cases in 2019 and accounted for 23 per cent of global malaria deaths, the highest number globally.
In his views, a Consultant Clinical Pharmacologist, Dr Obaro Michael, says endorsement of the malaria vaccine by WHO is a welcome development in combating the disease that accounts for thousands of deaths annually.
Michael, who is of the University College Hospital (UCH), Ibadan, Oyo State, said the vaccine, with the existing malaria preventive tools, would positively impact malaria fight in the country.
“This is the first time that a vaccine has been approved for malaria.
“Although, the vaccine does not yet guarantee a hundred per cent prevention from malaria, it will positively impact on malaria control.
“The vaccine will further add to the gains achieved by the use of Artemisinin-based Combination Therapies (ACTs).
“The vaccine will add significantly to the reduction in morbidity and mortality from malaria.
“That is to say the vaccine will significantly reduce the rate of illness and death due to malaria in malaria endemic countries like Nigeria.
“It will offer added protection against malaria in non-immune travellers to malaria endemic countries. For a Nigerian child, the vaccine is an additional protection from malaria.
“As per whether the vaccine will win the war against malaria, it is too early to say.
“What is certain is that the vaccine will boost malaria control measures globally, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Time will tell what role the vaccine will play in the war against malaria,” Michael said.
Also, Dr Adedayo Williams, a former President of the Association of Resident Doctors (ARD), UCH Chapter, described the malaria vaccine as “a breakthrough in the fight against one of the world’s deadliest infectious disease”.
Williams, also a Family Health Physician, said he was optimistic that the new malaria vaccine would greatly impact the fight against a disease, which he said, accounts for many under five deaths in the country.
“Children under-five years are the most vulnerable group affected by malaria. Every two to three minutes a child dies of malaria.
“The long-awaited malaria vaccine is a game changer and great news for Nigeria and the world.
“It is a turn around in the global management of malaria and as we all know, prevention is better than cure.
“Just like the case of COVID-19 pandemic too, it is better to be vaccinated than to wait till you have the disease,” he said.
Williams said that the approved vaccine would space thousands of children’s lives and improve the quality of their lives, as it means reduced mortality of under five children.
“It will reduce the quality of life and days out of school and also reduce the amount of family income spent on malaria.
“Malaria vaccine is a game changer in the management of malaria.
“Congratulations to the WHO on the success of the vaccine; it is long over due and we look forward to other vaccines for other diseases like HIV.
“We appeal to companies to fund more researches, so that we can have more vaccines for other diseases,” he said.
Also, Dr Gbenga Adepoju, the Director of Public Health in Osun, described the recommendation of malaria vaccine by WHO as a “good development for the entire world”.
Adepoju said that it was a great achievement to develop a vaccine against malaria “which had been with us for decades”.
According to him, this is a big achievement for the entire world, because malaria had been with us in Africa continent for long.
“In most of these public health problems, once you are able to work toward getting a vaccine, then, it can be regarded as a major achievement.
“Vaccine is one powerful tool as far as public health is concern. Once you can get a vaccine that can handle a particular public health importance, I think it is a form of relief.
“With all the malaria drugs we have been using for treatment for years, none can be as reliable as a vaccine,” he said.
Adepoju, however, urged WHO, in collaboration with other stakeholders in the health sector, to ensure widespread of the vaccine for the benefit of children, who are most vulnerable.
Similarly, the Special Adviser to Gov. Gboyega Oyetola on Public Health, Siji Olamiju, said that the negative effects of malaria scourge on the quality of lives of people, especially children in Africa continent was terrible.
Olamiju said: “The breakthrough in malaria vaccine should be celebrated because of the scourge of malaria on yearly basis on children.
“The vaccine will be of great benefit to us in Africa continent because of its negative effects on the quality of lives of people.
“For me, it is a major breakthrough and it should be celebrated.
“I hope it will be made available to everybody, region, states, local governments, wards and households through efficient supply chain system,” Olamiju said.
Commenting, Dr Adesina Akintan, the Director in charge of the University of Medical Sciences Teaching Hospital (UNIMEDTH), Akure annex in Ondo State, described the breakthrough as a positive development.
Akintan said that with the vaccine, African continent, would be saved from deaths caused by malaria infection.
He, however, urged the authorities to make the vaccine available, affordable and accessible, especially to the masses.
“The malaria vaccine is a major breakthrough in the management of malaria which is common in our environment.”
Also, a Sociologist, Mr Sunday Bamidele, said the vaccine was a welcome development because of the devastating effect of malaria on the health of the African population.
According to him, it is on record that malaria has one of the highest mortality rate in Africa, so the vaccine will save a lot of lives.
In his reactions, Dr Adekunle Adediran, a Consultant Paediatrician at the Federal Medical Centre, Abeokuta in Ogun State, said that the efforts to develop malaria vaccine had been on for over a century.
Adediran shared the optimism of WHO Director-General, Tedros Ghebreyessus, that the development was a significant milestone that would save tens of thousands of lives of infants and young children, who bear the brunt of malaria on a daily basis.
“The benefit is tremendous in terms of tens of thousands of lives to be saved and in the long run, money spent on frequent management of malaria and loss of man-hours attributable to malaria will be significantly reduced,” the expert said.
He advised the federal and other tiers of governments to embark on massive education, publicity and mobilise people in order to reduce the chances of success of the conspiracy theorists.
“I advise the government to be focussed, committed and consistent. People should be educated and mobilised while the vaccine is rolled out massively all over the country.
“The vaccine should be made available, very close to the people, the same way routine vaccines are made available.
“Of course, this will need a lot of resources, but investment bin health always yields good dividends,” Adediran said.
The paediatrician called on the parents, particularly, mothers to embrace the vaccine, while they continue to implement other malaria control measures, including sleeping under Insecticide Treated Bednets.
Also, Dr Elijah Ogunsola, Executive Secretary, Ogun Primary Healthcare Board, said the vaccine, when eventually introduced into the nation’s routine immunisation schedule, would increase life expectancy of the populace and also ensure increased rate of child survival.
“We, in Ogun, has to hold on to the stance of the coordinating agency where all the vaccines being used in Nigeria are being supplied to the states.
“We do the central procurement of vaccine and it is being done by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA).
“We will be waiting for the Federal Ministry of Health and NPCDA to give the stance.
“I can assure you that in Ogun we are being led by a proactive Commissioner for Health, Dr Tomi Coker.
“As soon as we get the stance of the Nigeria Government, the commissioner will address the media and tell us the policy direction the Ogun Government will follow as regards the malaria vaccine,” he said.
Reacting to the development, Mrs Monsurat Adebiyi, a Nurse, said that discovery of malaria vaccine was a great achievement to the health sector.
Adebiyi said that benefits of the vaccine would not be limited to children alone, but beneficial to all and sundry.
“For those that are medically knowledgeable, they will gladly welcome the vaccine.
“Some Nigerians might be reluctant and hesitant at the start of it, but with the creation of awareness and enlightenment, even, those in the rural setting will receive it.
“That is not to say there would not still be some that will reject it vehemently due to ignorance, religious, ethnic and other baseless reasons, but in the long run, those that will welcome the idea will be much,” she said.
In his remarks, Dr Habeeb Badmus, President of ARD, University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH) chapter, said discovery of the vaccine was a huge breakthrough and good news to Nigeria and Africa where the disease is endemic.
Badmus described malaria as one of the diseases that would continue to affect blacks in the sub-Saharan Africa due to the burden in deaths and mortality of children and pregnant women.
“The breakthrough will bring a lot of relief to the healthcare sector and will also go a long way in the treatment of malaria.
“Also, the economic impact of the burden of malaria, which generally affects the country, will be reduced,” he said.
Badmus appealed to the three tiers of government to make the vaccines available and affordable for the vulnerable.
He also called on researchers to strive and find vaccines for other diseases and conditions such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malnutrition, among others.
Also, Dr Misbau Lawal, member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), explained that the research for the malaria vaccine had been on for more than 40 years.
Lawal, however, alleged that some pharmaceutical companies had always suppressed evolution of the vaccine.
According to him, this was counterproductive; adding that once there is vaccine, there would be no need for their drugs again.
“It has always been easy to manufacture. In Nigeria, there was attempt to invent the vaccines at he Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria,” he said.
“This vaccine produces anti-bodies against malaria parasite in the body, and highly antigenic against the parasite.
“For vaccine to be effective against malaria, it must be a polevarent vaccine, and must be prepared using four strains of the malaria protozoan parasite.
“These include parasitic protozoans causing malaria; Plasmodium Falciparum, Plasmodium Vivax, Plasmodium Ovate, and Plasmodium malaria.
Lawal said that with this breakthrough, malaria would be put under control and be gradually eradicated.