In a significant development for Nigeria’s public health, the Coordinating Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Prof Ali Pate, announced on Thursday that the international organization, Vaccine Alliance (Gavi), has pledged to prioritize Nigeria in the rollout of the malaria vaccine. Prof Ali Pate made this promising revelation during Gavi’s visit to the Primary Healthcare Centre in New Karu, situated in the Karu Local Government Area of Nasarawa State.
Malaria, a disease that has plagued the African continent for generations, has been a major concern for health authorities in Nigeria. Prof Pate emphasized the importance of addressing malaria on a national scale, drawing a parallel with the successful campaign against polio. He stated, “Gavi just told us that they will prioritize Nigeria in the rollout of the new malaria vaccine over time. That does not mean no more nets, that does not mean no treatment, but at least we have additional tools in the fight against malaria.”
This commitment from Gavi represents a significant step towards achieving comprehensive protection against malaria in Nigeria. Malaria is a disease that affects millions of Nigerians every year, particularly children and pregnant women. With the inclusion of Nigeria in the malaria vaccine rollout, there is renewed hope for reducing the burden of this deadly disease.
Prof Pate also acknowledged the substantial investments made by the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, state governments, and development partners. These investments have yielded commendable results in reaching children with life-saving vaccines. However, he also emphasized that there were still many children who had not received vital vaccinations and stressed the importance of ensuring their immunization.
Earlier in July, Nigeria faced disappointment when it was initially excluded from the list of twelve countries across different regions in Africa slated to receive 18 million doses of the first-ever RTS,S/AS01 malaria vaccine from 2023 to 2025. This vaccine, the RTS,S/AS01, marks a groundbreaking development as it is the first vaccine recommended by the World Health Organization to prevent malaria in children residing in areas with moderate to high malaria transmission.
The joint statement issued by Gavi, WHO, and UNICEF highlighted the success of the malaria vaccine in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi since 2019. In these countries, the vaccine has proven to be both safe and effective, resulting in a significant reduction in severe malaria cases and child mortality rates. Impressively, over 1.7 million children in Ghana, Kenya, and Malawi have received the vaccine since its introduction, underscoring its impact in reducing the malaria burden.
Furthermore, the statement indicated that a total of 28 African countries had expressed interest in receiving the malaria vaccine, highlighting the widespread need for effective malaria prevention measures on the continent. In addition to the initial three countries, the vaccine’s allocation will enable nine more nations, including Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Niger, Sierra Leone, and Uganda, to introduce the vaccine into their routine immunization programs for the first time.
During their visit to New Karu, the Executive Director of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency (NPHCDA), Dr. Faisal Shuaib, provided insight into why Nasarawa State was chosen as a pivotal location for this announcement. He explained that Nasarawa State’s significant investments in immunization and primary healthcare made it an ideal candidate for such a momentous event. Dr. Shuaib assured the community that they would witness the tangible benefits of Gavi’s visit in the coming weeks and months, with improved access to life-saving vaccines.
David Marlow, the Chief Executive Officer of Gavi, underscored the importance of understanding Nigeria’s healthcare needs and challenges, emphasizing Gavi’s unwavering commitment to the country. He highlighted the alarming fact that Nigeria currently has the largest population of children with zero vaccine doses globally, a concerning statistic that reflects the urgency of vaccination efforts in the country.
Marlow also emphasized the potential to save 5.6 million lives by 2030 through various vaccination initiatives, including the introduction of the malaria vaccine. He stated, “Now Nigeria has the largest zero-dose children population in the world, with 2.3 million we spoke earlier, with the Honourable Professor Pate about the future opportunity to prevent deaths in Nigeria and the potential is by 2030 to save 5.6 million people’s lives, and that does not even exclude many other potential vaccines such as malaria that we can bring to this country.”
The Etsu of Karu, Luka Panya Baba, expressed his gratitude to Gavi and the government for their tireless efforts in reaching his community with life-saving vaccines. He recognized the importance of these interventions in improving public health and acknowledged the government’s commitment to providing essential healthcare services to even the most remote areas.