On January 25th, a milestone was reached in humanity’s long fight against Malaria. For the first time ever, a Malaria vaccine was included in a country’s routine childhood vaccinations program. Cameroon rolled out a new Malaria vaccine for children and other countries will soon follow. This comes after years of successful trials in Kenya, Ghana and Malawi which demonstrated the vaccine to be safe and effective in preventing Malaria deaths among children.
Joining me to put this milestone in context is Margaret McDonnell, Executive Director of United to Beat Malaria, a global grassroots campaign of the United Nations Foundation. We kick off discussing the burden of Malaria around the world and have a broader conversation about how this new vaccine fits into global efforts to rid humanity of Malaria.
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Mark Leon Goldberg Help set the context for this conversation. Can you explain the broad trends in the global fight against malaria over the last few decades?
Margaret McDonnell Malaria is one of the oldest and deadliest diseases known to humankind. But over the last 15 and 20 years, because of a lot of stepped up commitments and funding — like the establishment of the Global Fund to Fight Aids, Tuberculosis and Malaria, the President’s Malaria Initiative, and making malaria a real priority at the W.H.O. and among endemic countries — deaths have significantly decreased. There’s been a 40-50% reduction in terms of deaths, and cases have also come down considerably.
That said, the last few years, and this is reflected in the 2023 World Malaria Report, that progress is starting to stabilize — or even reverse in some places. There’s a number of factors that are at play here. Covid had an impact on malaria and all global health programs. But we’re seeing the impact of things like insecticide resistance as well. Also, there’s a new invasive mosquito species called Anopheles Stephensi in Africa that is presenting some new challenges. And then we have record levels of displacement around the world due to conflict and climate change. Whenever a population is destabilized and has less access to health services case rates can go up. So we’re at a challenging time. We talk about how we’re really are at a crossroads. There’s a lot of urgency. But the good news is with challenges and an urgency comes opportunities. And there are reasons to be hopeful and optimistic.
Mark Leon Goldberg It seems that one of the reasons to be hopeful and optimistic is the existence of new malaria vaccines. You mentioned that after years of progress, there has been a flatlining or reversal of that progress in the last couple of years. But now we have a new malaria vaccine that hopefully can spur more progress towards reducing or eliminating malaria. I wanted to discuss that with you today. What is the particular significance of Cameroon being the first country to include a malaria vaccine as part of its routine childhood vaccination program?