Elian Koech was the first child to receive the malaria vaccine today in Kenya.

In recent years, Kenya has made tremendous progress in the fight against malaria through the scale-up of insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs), indoor residual spraying (IRS), and appropriate diagnosis and treatment, using artemisinin-based combination therapies (ACTs).

Largely as a result of these efforts, the proportion of people affected by malaria declined from 11 percent to 8 percent nationally, between 2010 and 2015. However, the burden of malaria remains high in some parts of Kenya. For example, according to the 2015 Kenya Malaria Indicator Survey, 27% of children younger than 15 years were found to be positive for malaria in the endemic Lake Region in the western part of the country. In 2016, malaria caused an estimated 3.5 million infections and just over 10,000 deaths in Kenya, overwhelming health facility capacity in endemic regions where malaria transmission is highest.

Promising new tool

But now a malaria vaccine, known as RTS,S, is available in certain areas of Kenya, offering an additional way to protect young children from this disease, which is a top 10 cause of illness and death, and a leading killer of children under the age of five. Kenya is one of three African countries (alongside Ghana and Malawi) that is providing the vaccine to children through routine immunization as part of a phased introduction and evaluation coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with partners, including PATH, and vaccine developer and manufacturer, GSK.

The vaccine, where it is available, is part of the package of recommended malaria prevention measures. When used alongside existing measures, such as ITNs, the vaccine has the potential to save thousands of young lives in Kenya. The Ministry of Health, through the National Vaccines and Immunization Programme is leading the phased introduction of the malaria vaccine in parts of the country where malaria transmission is highest and where the vaccine is expected to provide the greatest benefit.

As with other new vaccine introductions, this phased introduction is providing the National Vaccines and Immunization Programme and participating counties with the opportunity to learn valuable lessons with a view to scaling up the use of the vaccine to all eligible populations. The aim of the phased introduction is to vaccinate at least 120,000 children per year in Kenya in the selected areas and to determine how best to deliver the required four doses of the vaccine in routine settings, assess the vaccine’s full potential role in reducing childhood deaths, and continue to monitor the vaccine for any unwanted side effects.

PATH’s mission is to advance health equity through innovation and partnership, and we are grateful for the wonderful partners with whom we have collaborated and who have contributed so much to bringing the first malaria vaccine to this point. We have worked toward this day for close to 20 years—first partnering with the vaccine manufacturer, GSK, in 2001 to develop RTS,S for use in children. And we look forward to continuing to support the vaccine’s introduction, helping to get this new intervention to those who need it most – young African children.

13 Sep 2019
By Ben Aliwa, AG Country Director, PATH Kenya