As a nation, we have made tremendous progress in the fight against malaria.
This has been achieved through the scale-up of insecticide-treated mosquito nets (ITNs), indoor residual spraying with insecticides and appropriate diagnosis and treatment using artemisinin-based combination therapies.
These interventions have over the last decade reduced malaria prevalence to eight from 13 per cent in children under five years. However, malaria still remains one of the top 10 causes of death in the country, and a leading killer of children under five.
The prevalence has remained high, with an incidence of up to 27 per cent among children aged less than five years, especially in the lake region where the condition is endemic.
For instance, malaria caused an estimated 3.5 million infections and just over 10,000 deaths in Kenya in 2016, overwhelming the health facility capacity in the malaria endemic region. This situation has called for new and complementary tools to further reduce the disease burden.
In that respect, we recently unveiled a phased introduction of the first malaria vaccine, which is a major milestone.
The vaccine offers an additional way to protect young children from malaria. The vaccine will form part of the package of recommended malaria prevention measures. When used with existing measures, such as ITNs, the vaccine has the potential to save thousands of young lives.
With it, Kenya has now joined Malawi and Ghana as the third African nation to introduce the malaria vaccine.
This is an affirmation of the government’s commitment towards control, elimination and eradication of communicable diseases.
Kenya’s new strategic direction is to have at least 80 per cent of people living in malaria-risk areas having access to appropriate malaria preventive measures.
This strategy involves a sustained implementation of the existing interventions, as well as the introduction of new interventions, such as the malaria vaccine.
The vaccine is being rolled out in a phased approach and will be implemented in eight counties that have been experiencing the highest malaria burden of up to 20 per cent. These are Kakamega, Vihiga, Bungoma, Busia, Kisumu, Homa Bay, Migori and Siaya.
Selected sub-counties in these counties will have the opportunity to initially introduce the vaccine while the remaining will introduce it at a later stage. In order to get maximum benefits from the vaccine, four doses will be given to children in month six, seven, nine and 24.
I, therefore, urge parents of children in this age groups and residing in selected sub-counties to visit their nearest health facilities or selected immunisation sites for vaccination to protect their loved ones from malaria.
The government is offering the vaccine, which has been approved as safe and effective, free of charge in all health facilities. Clinical trials have shown that when used alongside other recommended malaria interventions, fewer incidents of malaria in children and less hospital admissions will be experienced. The vaccine can prevent four out of 10 infections and prevent severe malaria by more than 30 per cent in the six-24 months age group.
As we move to scale up universal health coverage (UHC) as part of the Big Four Agenda, immunisation is a key pillar of disease control. The introduction of the malaria vaccine falls under the key portfolio of public health services that will drive the achievement of UHC. The rising costs of healthcare and dynamic disease epidemiology and burden make it necessary to make every shilling available for healthcare services count.
Thus investments in eradicating vaccine preventable diseases will yield better macro and micro economic outcomes. Such investments are central to economic, social and political development as every episode of malaria is time away from day to day activities like going to school or work.
The Ministry of Health, therefore, remains resolute in our commitment to control, eliminate and eradicate vaccine preventable diseases. The ministry will continue to aid the procurement, warehousing and distribution of all childhood vaccines to regional depots.
At the introduction of the malaria vaccine, I handed over a four-wheel drive vehicle, a motorbike and cold chain equipment to Homa Bay County, which is part of a consignment of 125 fridges that have been installed across the country in the last one year and valued at Sh68 million.
These will facilitate the scale up of immunisation, service delivery and malaria vaccine introduction in the county. This support has been carried out in the hope that it will complement the county investments in immunisation to reach every child.
The writer is the Health Cabinet Secretary.