Kenya is among four African countries that will carry out a larger trial in nearly 5,000 children, on a malaria vaccine proven to be 77 percent effective.
The results of trials on 450 children in Burkina Faso, by University of Oxford researchers, could be a major breakthrough against the disease that kills more than 40,000 people globally every year.
The participants were followed for 12 months and the vaccine found to be safe while showing a high level of efficacy.
Malaria is one of the leading causes of childhood mortality in Africa and has led to more deaths in the region in the past year than coronavirus.
The disease accounted for more than 265,000 deaths of children in Africa in 2019. Malaria remains a major public health concern in Kenya.
Besides being the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the country, the disease is listed among the top 10 causes of outpatient visits countrywide.
The World Malaria Report 2020, found that over the last four years, progress in reducing malaria has hit a plateau. In 2019, there were an estimated 229 million malaria cases and 400,000 deaths from the disease, over 90 per cent of which occur in Africa, with more than 265,000 deaths in young children.
In Kenya, malaria is a top killer of children under five years. There are an estimated 3.5 million new clinical cases and 10,700 deaths each year, and those living in western Kenya have an especially high risk of malaria-according to US Centre for Disease Control.
Health experts lauded the phased introduction of the RTSS malaria vaccine in selected eight counties two years ago as an ‘exciting new tool in the global fight against the disease’.
Counties offering the vaccine include Homabay, Migori, Kisumu, Siaya, Busia, Bungoma, Vihiga and Kakamega.
Some sub-counties introduced the vaccine into their immunisation schedule, and others were expected to do so later.
The vaccine, the first to give partial protection to children, trains the immune system to attack the malaria parasite, which is spread by mosquitoes.
The RTS,S is a four-schedule vaccine, given at six months, seven months, nine months and the last at 24 months. It was rolled out in Kenya, Malawi and Ghana.
According to child vaccination figures based on National Immunisation Programme administrative reporting from the three countries, more than 1.7 million doses have been administered, benefiting more than 650,000 children with additional malaria protection.
In Kenya, more than 450,000 doses of the vaccine will have been administered, with more than 190,000 children having received the first dose by the end of April, according to National Vaccines and Immunisation Programme.
Dr Bernhards Ogutu, the chief research officer at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) says the vaccine is a vital tool for prevention, “but we will have to analyse data from the piloting counties, to quantify its impact.”