Cameroon begins mass vaccination of children, “a revolution”

Cameroon is the first country in the world to “routinely” vaccinate against malaria. In 2023, six million cases and 4,000 deaths were reported in this central African country.



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Vaccination of a 6-month-old child in Soa (Cameroon) in February 2024 (Solain Le Hain / Franceinfo / Radio France)

Two vaccines have now been approved by the World Health Organization: this is a historic step in the fight against the disease, which has been documented since antiquity but which still affects around 250 million people and causes 600,000 deaths. Last year in the world.

In Cameroon, we now vaccinate children who live in the areas most affected by this parasite. At Soa Hospital, in the hills surrounding the capital, Yaounde, Henriette came to vaccinate her second boy. Last year, his eldest, also a child, almost died of malaria: “He was six months old, he was vomiting and had a very high temperatureShe said that. A lot of people don’t know it’s a deadly thing.”

Vomiting, fever, convulsions… Six million cases of malaria were reported in Cameroon last year, and the mosquito-borne parasite killed 4,000 people, most of them children. So they are the target of this vaccine, which for the first time in the world is injected “routinely”, that is, it is included in the vaccination schedule of children, in the same way as BCG or the vaccine against polio. .

Vaccination is rather well accepted by parents

That day, Daniel Akoto, who supervises the vaccination session, explains the process to about thirty mothers holding their babies in their arms: “The malaria vaccine is given in four doses. Your baby will get a dose at six months, seven months, nine months and two years. All these doses are really important, ladies. !”

Malaria vaccine is free but not mandatory. Despite rumors, misinformation about its effectiveness and perceived side effects, parental support is strong, explains Helen Quacum, who manages vaccine logistics in the district: “For the moment we have no cases of refusal. Parents agree, because they have seen many malaria patients. They want their children to be safe.”

Mothers wait to vaccinate their children at Soa Hospital (Cameroon), February 2024 (Solain Le Hain / Franceinfo / Radio France)

A witness to the eventual vaccination of children is Marie-Claire Ndizomo Andela, a nurse for more than 30 years: “Every day I hoped that there would be a malaria vaccine. This happened before I retired. !She rejoices. It will change the lives of Cameroonians. There were too many deaths, too many children…”

Vaccines are still imperfect

Studies in Kenya, Malawi and Ghana show that the vaccine introduced from GSK laboratories, for example, being injected today in Cameroon, does not prevent malaria transmission. But it prevents 30% of severe forms and death, said one of the leaders of UNICEF in Cameroon, Dr. Leonard Caudio, who partially organized this vaccination, underlines: “If we avoid 30% of deaths among children under the age of 5, that is already a lot ! We’ve been chasing this vaccine for more than 50 years, so it’s a revolution.”

Experts emphasize that these two vaccines, one developed by GSK Laboratories and the other by Oxford University, are the first step. These are additional tools, but in no case should we abandon other means of fighting malaria. “We must maintain and intensify other measuresDr. Caudio says, Such as using fertilized mosquito nets, or weeding around homes to destroy anything that could serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes.”

This free vaccination is being done under the leadership and funding of WHO, UNICEF and Gavi Alliance, who distributed billions of Covid vaccines, especially in poor countries. After Cameroon, a dozen African countries will introduce routine vaccination of children: Burkina Faso for a few days, then in the coming weeks Benin, DRC, Sierra Leone, Niger… Asian countries, India, are also studying the possibility. Vaccination against malaria soon.

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