The Akatsi North District health directorate has disclosed that it is unable to meet set target numbers for the ongoing pilot implementation of malaria vaccine, RTS,S/AS01.
This was revealed by the District Director of Health, Michael Kofi Sedofia Zigah in an interview with Starr News’ Faisel Abdul-Iddrisu ahead of this year’s World Malaria Day to be marked on Sunday, April 24.
According to him, the directorate through a strategic analysis has realized that there is a consistent drop gap between the number of children who have taken RTS,S1, RTS,S2 and RTS,S3 since the campaign started in 2019.
He said, “When you look at the cohort data that we have, if you look at the people that migrated from RTS,S1 to RTS,S2 to RTS,S3 there are some gaps and as a district, we have seen these gaps, looking at the cohort data.”
He explained that, “We have people who started the vaccination well, they agreed they will stay in the district but this is a rural district and so, mothers come to deliver, they tell you they are resident but after sometime, they move out to where they are working permanently. So you will see that gap or that drop out between RTS,S1 to RTS,S3.”
Data made available by the health directorate confirm the claims by the director.
In 2019, the district had a target population of 1,668 to be covered for RTS,S1 but only 444 children were vaccinated making 26.6 percent.
In 2020, for RTS,S1 the district had a target population of 1,706 but only 621 children were immunized making a percentage of 36.4 of the population. Again, for RTS,S3 in 2020 only 563 children were vaccinated as against a 1,706 target population, making 33 percent.
By the end of 2020, only 55 children were vaccinated as against a target population of 1,706.
Mr. Zigah, however, stated that a lot more of the children would by the end of the first quarter or second quarter of 2021 qualify for RTS,S4 -a situation that he says would definitely affect the figures for the year 2020.
To close the gap, Mr. Zigah indicated that, “But what we are still doing to close that gap is to ensure that we are certain that caregivers are staying before we give the vaccine. And then, we are following up on defaulters who are still in the district to ensure that we close the gap.”
Just like the case of Ketu North, the malaria vaccination campaign in the Akatsi North district has been hard hit with misconceptions relating to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr. Zigah said, “Coverage for routine immunization services dropped since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the outbreak, there has been a high level of sensitization of adherence to the safety protocols which include telling people to stay at home, maintaining social distance among other protocols and so, that affected us. Caregivers were afraid to bring their children to the facilities for vaccination, some fear that they would be tagged as Covid-19 clients if they visit the facility. Some also thought they would contract the virus by coming into contact with health staff who are said to be exposed.”
“And then, with the fear, it’s not only with community members but with health staff as well because most of our services are outreach based. The fear is that even with all the protocols, you’re traveling out to deliver services in the community, you don’t really know who you come into contact with and so you are scared; all these limited our movement and also affected our coverage,” he added.
He, however, indicated that coverage is increasing gradually as Covid-19 cases reduce.
The malaria vaccine, RTS,S/AS01 is the only vaccine that has shown a partial form of protection against malaria in young children.
The pilot implementation campaign started in 2019 in selected areas in Ghana, Kenya and Malawi, following a recommendation for its implementation by the World Health Organization in 2016.
In Ghana, the exercise is ongoing in 42 selected districts across 7 regions in Ghana.
In Ghana alone, more than 680,00 doses of the malaria vaccine is expected to be administered with more than 230,000 children having received a first dose by the end of April.