Joshua Isaac

Efforts to protect children from malaria in South Sudan have received a significant boost with the receipt of the first batch of the latest malaria vaccine on May 31. The Minister for Health received over 645,000 doses of the R21 vaccines in Juba, which will be distributed to 28 counties with the highest malaria burden.

The doses were delivered through a collaborative partnership of the country’s Ministry of Health, Gavi- the Vaccine Alliance, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

Recent data from UNICEF shows that malaria is the top cause of death in children in South Sudan. Furthermore, South Sudan continues to grapple with one of the highest malaria incidence rates in Africa, recording 7,630 cases and 18 deaths daily.

Speaking in Juba as he received the doses, South Sudan’s Minister for Health, Yolanda Deng, expressed optimism in the vaccine’s ability to reduce the impact of malaria and improve the health outcomes for children in the country adding that, “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.”

R21 is the second malaria vaccine to receive WHO’s approval in the last four years. WHO approved the first malaria vaccine for children (RTS,S) in 2021, which has been widely rolled out in several African countries including Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. The two vaccines have proven safe and effective in protecting children from malaria, potentially saving countless lives. Moreover, the Gavi, UNICEF and WHO partnership seek to procure more vaccines to immunise over 45 million children worldwide in the coming years.

According to a WHO report, in 2022, there were an estimated 249 million cases of malaria in Africa, with approximately 608,000 deaths. The African region accounted for 94% and 95% of global malaria cases and deaths respectively, with children accounting for 80% of all malaria deaths in the WHO African Region.

According to Dr Humphrey Karamagi, WHO Representative for South Sudan, “The inclusion of the malaria vaccine in the routine immunisation program represents a crucial addition to the existing arsenal of malaria prevention and control measures. This vaccine provides an additional, effective intervention to protect children and reduce the burden of this devastating disease. Its integration into routine immunisation will enhance our ability to deliver comprehensive malaria prevention to those most at risk.”

Hamida Lasseko – UNICEF South Sudan Representative added: “The expanded availability of malaria vaccines heralds a new chapter in combating this deadly disease. Governments’ proactive engagement and health systems’ preparedness are pivotal in facilitating the successful rollout of the immunisation programme. Training, communication strategies, and robust cold chain infrastructure are essential components in spreading the distribution of these important vaccines to protect children.”