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West Africa’s Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone launch malaria vaccination

BENIN, Liberia and Sierra Leone launched large-scale malaria vaccine programmes on Thursday under an Africa-focused initiative that hopes to save tens of thousands of children’s lives per year across the continent.

The three West African countries are the latest to participate after successful rollouts of routine malaria immunization for children in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, the global vaccine alliance GAVI said in a statement.

The World Health Organization-approved vaccine is meant to work alongside existing tools such as bed nets to combat malaria, which in Africa kills nearly half a million children under the age of 5 each year.

“This introduction … will help save lives and offer relief to families, communities and hard-pressed health systems,” said Aurelia Nguyen, GAVI chief programme officer.

Benin has 215,900 doses of the vaccine, which will be available to children from around 5 months old, according to GAVI.

Sierra Leone has 550,000 doses and neighbouring Liberia has 112,000 doses, it said.

At the official launch in Benin, which took place in the town of Allada, some 54 km (34 miles) from the country’s largest city, Cotonou, 25 children received the vaccine.

“I came to have my children vaccinated against malaria. It’s important to me because when children get this malaria disease, we spend a lot of money,” said Victoire Fagbemi, a 41-year-old mother of four.

Another mother, Victoire Boko, who had her 10-month-old child vaccinated at the launch, said the health minister’s explanations about the vaccine in the local Fon language had allayed any anxieties she had about its safety.

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“When I get home, I will share the information … with my neighbours and friends,” she said on the sidelines of the launch.

The African region is home to 11 countries that carry approximately 70% of the global burden of malaria, according to GAVI.