THE announcement by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that it has recommended widespread use of malaria vaccines among children in sub-Saharan Africa and other high malaria-burden regions is a huge scientific breakthrough.
With more than 260 000 African children under the age of five succumbing to malaria annually, the disease has burdened many countries, Zimbabwe included.
Children are mostly at risk, as evidenced by empirical evidence — often sidelined — yet malaria remains a primary cause of childhood illness and death in sub-Saharan Africa.
In recent years, WHO and its partners have been reporting stagnation in progress against the deadly disease and the new announcement will give countries a chance to tone down the adverse effects of malaria and take control.
But Zimbabwe, experiencing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, will have a tough job ahead, that of creating awareness of the new development so that malaria vaccination cannot suffer the same fate.
The Health ministry and partners should immediately reach out to communities spreading the gospel in order to halt speculation and ultimately vaccine hesitancy.
Still at the mercy of COVID-19 and battling growing vaccine hesitancy, the malaria vaccines breakthrough might just be a much-needed opportunity for us to claw back some sense of control of our health sector.
We cannot have a repeat of this scenario. There is ample time to engage everyone and educate them on the vaccine and advantages of being vaccinated. All questions and misconceptions must be addressed.
It would be a huge shame to miss this gift of life which has come at an opportune time.
Malaria has been menacing in the country. In March last year, when COVID-19 broke out, at least 131 people had died and more than 135 000 were infected within four months, with children not spared the malaria grim reaper.
So, the authorities must be reminded of the tough task ahead. Systems must be put in place within health facilities, especially in rural areas that are usually difficult to reach. This includes having adequate personnel and equipment for storage of the vaccines.
The media too has a role to play in disseminating information. We should not let foreign media take the lead on something that affects us.
Health issues like malaria and COVID-19 only make news when people die in their numbers. This is the time to change the narrative and play the critical role of informing and educating the general public.
This vaccine will improve health and save lives.