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Life-saving malaria vaccine rolls out in Cameroon

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

At a hospital in Cameroon, health care workers this week started giving malaria shots to babies. This makes Cameroon in Central Africa the first country to have a routine childhood vaccination program against the illness, which is spread by mosquitoes and is common there.

WILFRED FON MBACHAM: It affects everybody.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Wilfred Fon Mbacham is a professor of public health, biotechnology and a tribal leader in Cameroon. He has personal experience with malaria.

MBACHAM: Of course. I grew up here and therefore I've had. I think the first time that I knew that this was malaria was when I couldn't go to school, as young in age that I was, and surviving it with a lot of muscular aches, fatigue and headaches and fever.

MARTIN: The vaccine alone won't end malaria, but it can reduce the risk of severe disease by more than 30%. Now, that may sound low, but it could make a big difference in Africa, where malaria killed close to half a million children under 5 in 2022, especially if it's used in combination with other protective measures such as insecticide-treated bed nets and anti-malarial pills. Mbacham says the vaccine could also have other benefits for kids.

MBACHAM: The other aspect of malaria is that it affects cognition. And therefore, without malaria, you'll be able to take your exams and write and feel that you've actually gained something in school.

MARTÍNEZ: One group that helps to fund and distribute the vaccine is Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, where Aurélia Nguyen is program director.

AURELIA NGUYEN: If you're a parent and you bring your child in for their regular vaccinations, now, in 42 districts in Cameroon, the parent will be offered a dose of malaria vaccine.

MARTIN: The World Health Organization says the countries that piloted the vaccine - Kenya, Ghana and Malawi - saw a drop in mortality and hospitalization. Now more countries want it.

NGUYEN: We have 20 countries approved for introduction over the course of 2024.

MARTÍNEZ: Burkina Faso is expected to roll the vaccine out next with Benin and Liberia to follow.

(SOUNDBITE OF OPETH'S "PATTERNS IN THE IVY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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