From next month all children between six months and two years in selected districts in four regions of the country with high malaria prevalence will receive malaria vaccination.
The malaria vaccine pilot implementation programme, expected to commence in April in the Central, Upper East, Volta and Ahafo regions, will be scaled up to other regions based on its success.
The Programme Manager of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) at the Ghana Health Service, Dr George Bonsu, made this known during the opening of a five-day workshop in Accra for supply chain managers and personnel with oversight of the vaccine supply chain.
The workshop is to improve immunisation coverage in the country.
The training workshop is part of a strategic training executive programme (STEP) which was developed by the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunisation (GAVI), in collaboration with United Parcel Services (UPS) and in partnership with the Ministry of Health, the Ghana Health Service and the Africa Resources Centre (AFC).
STEP is developed to provide leadership and management skills to higher level professionals who have oversight and direct impact on the vaccine supply chain to improve immunisation equity and coverage.
Who will be vaccinated?
Dr Bonsu explained that the vaccination, which was a four-dose course, would be administered to children who were six, seven, nine and 24 months of age when they visited vaccination centres, or what is popularly called ‘weighing’.
“Every child will have to receive the four doses. Malaria is a major problem in Ghana and we want to reduce the number of under-five deaths,” he said.
Apart from Ghana, the malaria vaccination programme is being piloted in Kenya and Malawi and will end after two-and- half years of its implementation.
GAVI and partners
It is funded by the GAVI, the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Global Fund and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), which is the vaccine manufacturer, and the government.
Ghana, Dr Bonsu said, had made notable progress in malaria prevention and control, with existing interventions significantly contributing to a reduction in malaria-related deaths.
However, he stated, the country continued to have a significant disease burden, saying with the implementation of the malaria vaccination, Ghana would benefit from the deployment of additional tools in the fight against malaria.
Dr Bonsu expressed the optimism that Ghana would win the fight against malaria, since the vaccine was well tolerated, effective and had an acceptable safety profile.
The Director General of the Ghana Health Service, Dr Anthony Nsiah-Asare, said vaccines were essential to ensure healthy lives and promote the well-being of people of all ages and were, therefore, key to the achievements of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
SDG Three B calls for access to safe, effective, quality and affordable medicines and vaccines for all by the year 2030.
Ghana, Dr Nsiah said, had recorded success through immunisation services, including the elimination of neonatal tetanus since 2011, no case of poliomyelitis since 2018, no documented death due to measles since 2003 and a reduction in pneumonia and diarrhoea cases in children.
A manager of GAVI in charge of Private Sector Partnership, Health Systems and Immunisation Strengthening, Mr Magloire Achidi, said the training of the supply chain managers would ensure effective vaccine management and ensure that all children were protected with potent and effective vaccines.
With a strategic training executive programme, he said, countries would create transformational change in effective and efficient vaccines delivery.
In her remark, the Regional Director of Africa Resources Centre (AFC), Ms Azuka Okeke, said the centre, through advocacy, was hoping to get governments in Africa to realise the role the strategic training executive programme could play in developing the skills of public health managers.
She said building stronger managers at the national and district levels was a requisite to ensuring ownership and the sustainability of immunisation programmes.
Malaria kills nearly 600,000 people a year globally and causes illness in many more, about 90 per cent of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, with 83 per cent being children under the age of five.
In January 2016, Ghana responded to the World Health Organisation (WHO’s) call for national ministries of health to express interest in collaborating in the malaria vaccine pilot implementation programme.
The country participated in clinical trials of the malaria vaccine with two research centres in Agogo and Kintampo.