Non-Aligned Movement has recognised the challenges facing the developing nations. One such issue is the global health threat caused by epidemic diseases. NAM has stressed that control of major epidemics require proper early warning, preparedness, resilience-building, cross-sectoral action and greater national, regional and international collaboration.
Malaria is one of the major health challenges facing the developing nations of the Global South. The global burden of malaria is immense. There were 219 million cases of the disease, in 87 countries in 2017. 435,000 people died of malaria that year Approximately 70% of the world’s malaria burden is concentrated in 10 African countries. Many NAM Member States in Africa have cooperated with the World Health Organisation (WHO) to combat the disease.
A recent success story in this field was achieved in April 2019 when a new vaccine against deadly malaria which has been 30 years in development, was made available for the first time to infants in the African nation of Malawi, marking an “innovation milestone”. The WHO chose Malawi, alongside Ghana and Kenya, because of the high numbers of malaria cases and treatment facilities. The pilot phase aims to vaccinate 360,000 children per year, 120,000 of them in Malawi. It is one of the countries worst affected by malaria, with over 4 million cases and 7000 deaths in 2017. Local doctors and nurses hope that the vaccine, along with other malaria prevention measures, will reduce the number of life-threatening infections due to the disease.
The vaccine is known as the RTS,S vaccine. According to WHO, RTS,S, is the first and only vaccine so far, that has demonstrated it can “significantly reduce” malaria in children so far, during clinical trials. It was successful in approximately four in 10 cases, including three in 10 cases, where the disease was life-threatening to the young patient.
According to Michael Kayange, Malawi’s Deputy Director of Health, “We are still looking for new tools. So, this is one additional tool that will help us control malaria in this country and it has potential to save so many lives and also prevent so many diseases. For example, if we roll out this malaria vaccine after the pilot phase. This vaccine has the potential of preventing 1 million cases. And at the moment we are experiencing 6 million cases each year.”
This is a four-year pilot program that will run till 2022. In addition to helping to protect approximately one million babies from malaria over four years, the pilot program will establish the feasibility of adding a four-dose vaccine to the routine immunization schedule in poor countries, provide large scale data on the role the vaccine can play in reducing child deaths, and identify lessons learned from routine administration of the vaccine. The timeline for vaccine introduction will be randomized by district, to help collect the most detailed impact data possible. The World Health Organization (WHO) will use the data from this pilot program to issue a broad policy recommendation on the RTS,S vaccine and its use.
The response to the malaria vaccination program in Malawi has been overwhelming. According to a report published by WHO, many mothers in Malawi have welcomed the program. A senior Nursing Officer at Mitundu Community Hospital in Manali remarked “A lot of mothers with 5-months-old babies turned up, which gives us a clue that mothers also want to end malaria.”
For the effective implementation of the program, Malawi’s healthcare system is playing a pivotal role. Dr Michael Kayange, Deputy Director of Malaria, Ministry of Health of Malawi said that work with the communities will continue to support malaria prevention, with continued promotion of bed nets to protect families against infection.