Kenya, WHO differ over lower malaria cases

There has been a significant drop in diagnosed malaria cases in Kenya since the Covid 19 outbreak, but experts differ on what may be the cause.

The World Health Organisation -African Regional Office has attributed this to the positive effects of a malaria vaccine being piloted in Kenya, Ghana, and Malawi.

“New science shows severe malaria and death among children dramatically reduced through use of 1st malaria vaccine ((RTS, S),” tweeted WHO last week.

“Exciting news about the malaria vaccine.  This new approach reduces child hospitalizations and deaths from malaria by approximately 70 percent compared to current interventions,” retweeted  Dr Matshidiso Moeti, head of the WHO Africa region.

A piloting of the four-dose, two-year vaccine was launched in 2019 in Kenya, Malawi and Ghana.

By April this year some 650,000 children had received at least one or more of the four required dosses in the three countries.

The vaccine offers modest protection, about 34 percent, which wanes after four years.

But Kenya’s Ministry of Health and the US CDC say the vaccine is an unlikely cause of the drop.

In a study posted on The Lancet preprints this week, the ministry says the drop is likely due to fewer children being taken to hospital in 2020.

The study which reviewed the utilization of health services during the pandemic in 2020, reports reduced hospital attendance across the county.

These included a drop in malarial tests and treatment, especially for under-fives.

“This decline is unlikely to be driven by the nascent impact of the malaria vaccine rollout that started in eight counties in western Kenya in September 2019,” says the study.

“Only infants under 18-months are eligible for this vaccine and coverage rates are still low. We did not assess malaria vaccination trends due to insufficient pre-trend data.”

WHO Africa and Nairobi offices have been is a rush to have the RTS.S malaria vaccine cleared for routine use despite several unclear safety logistical and economic concerns.

By Gatonye Gathura

About Gatonye Gathura 125 Articles
Science Journalist

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