South Sudan receives first consignment of malaria vaccine

The government on Friday received the first consignment of the R21 malaria vaccine developed by the University of Oxford.
People are seen offloading the new R21 malaria vaccine on Friday at Juba International Airport.

By Awan Achiek

The government on Friday received the first consignment of the R21 malaria vaccine developed by the University of Oxford.

The 645,000 doses of the R21 malaria vaccine will be distributed to 28 counties with the highest malaria burden, according to Yolanda Awel Deng, the Minister of Health.

“Malaria is a major concern for our country. We are committed to reducing the impact of malaria and improving the health outcomes for our children,” Awel said during the reception ceremony held at Juba International Airport in Juba.

She noted that South Sudan becomes the eighth country in Africa to introduce this vaccine into it’s routine immunization program.

“The continued use of this vaccine, alongside other preventive measures such as insecticide-treated bed nets and timely access to medical care, will be instrumental in our efforts to eliminate malaria in South Sudan,” Awel said.

The vaccine will target mainly children 18 months to 5 years of age.

Awel also urged residents to make sure they clear the bushes around their houses to prevent malaria infection.

“Now that the rain season is coming, we are expecting a lot of flooding. We are expecting a lot of water bodies to collect. Make sure you clear the bushes around your house,” she said.

For her part, Beth Cadman, Charge d’ Affaires at the British Embassy in South Sudan, said that the delivery of the malaria vaccine marks a significant step towards ending preventable deaths due to malaria among infants.

She said the UK is proud to have supported the efforts to bring the R21 malaria vaccine to South Sudan.

“Here in South Sudan, the UK is proud to have supported the delivery of essential health services through the Health and Welfare Fund, which has treated over 12 million children with malaria since 2012,” Cadman said.

Obia Achieng, the Deputy Representative of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in South Sudan, said the country faces one of the highest malaria burdens in the region, with an estimated 7,630 cases and 18 deaths daily.

“Malaria remains a leading killer of young children in Sub-Saharan Africa, claiming lives of over 260,000 children under the age of five each year. Sadly, South Sudan faces one of the highest malaria burdens in the region, with an estimated 7,630 cases and 18 deaths daily,” Achieng said.

He said that in 2022, the country witnessed a staggering 76 percent surge in reported malaria cases, highlighting the urgent need for effective intervention.

“The availability of this new malaria vaccine, after nearly 60 years of development, represents a monumental breakthrough for science, malaria control, and child health,” Achieng said.

Harriet Pasquale, Acting Undersecretary in the Ministry of Health, said the new malaria vaccine is going to supplement the already existing malaria preventive tools in the country.

 “So far we have been implementing a number of preventive tools like the distribution of the long-lasting insecticide treated nets, indoor residual spraying in parts of the country, and we have also been implementing malaria case management,” Pasquale said.

“Malaria has been one of our major public health concerns in this country, we have seen the suffering from our children, our mothers and we have seen how most of our children die before they reach their fifth year of birth, so this has been really devastating to the country,” she added.

Janet Michael, director general of primary health care in the ministry of health, said that almost a quarter of all disease diagnoses in health facilities are malaria- related in the country, adding that this has contributed to the high infant and maternal mortality rate in the country.

Dr. Humphrey Karamagi, the World Health Organization (WHO) Representative for South Sudan, said that the inclusion of the malaria vaccine in the routine immunization program represents a crucial addition to the existing arsenal of malaria prevention and control measures.

“The introduction of the malaria vaccine is a pivotal development in our fight against malaria,” Karamagi said, adding that the vaccine provides an additional, effective intervention to protect children and reduce the burden of this devastating disease.

“It’s integration into routine immunization will enhance our ability to deliver comprehensive malaria prevention to those most at risk,” Karamagi said.

The highly effective vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and the Serum Institute of India, leveraging Novavax’s adjuvant is critical to reducing over half a million malaria-related deaths annually.

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