A new pneumococcal vaccine to prevent diseases such as pneumonia and meningitis among children under the age of one is being introduced today in Sierra Leone. About 250,000 children from every part of the country will benefit from this intervention as part of the routine immunization schedule. This is good news, as children will not have to make an extra visit to the health facility to receive this vaccine. Health workers have also been trained to manage sharps and waste in a responsible way.
Pneumonia is estimated to kill nearly two million children every year; it is responsible for approximately 18 per cent of the more than ten million annual childhood deaths worldwide.
Serious pneumococcal infections are a major global health problem. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that more than 1.6 million people, including approximately 800,000 children under 5 years old, die every year from pneumococcal infections. Nearly all these deaths occur in the world’s poorest countries. Pneumococcal meningitis is the most severe form of pneumococcal disease and one of the most fatal childhood illnesses. In developing countries, it kills or disables 40 to 70 per cent of the children who get the disease.
The Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunization (GAVI), in collaboration with the Government of Sierra Leone, UNICEF, WHO and some non-governmental organizations, has funded the procurement of 800,000 doses of the vaccines worth almost $ 2 million for 2011. There is also commitment from GAVI to provide this vaccine for four more years, up to 2015, subject to government co-funding 10 per cent of the total cost of vaccine and good performance.
“The introduction of this vaccine is essential to further reduce the under-five mortality rates in the country on our way to reaching the Millennium Development Goals”, said Mahimbo Mdoe, UNICEF Representative in Sierra Leone. “It is crucial that parents understand how important this vaccination is for the health of their children”.
This vaccine, which has hitherto not been used in Sierra Leone, can contribute significantly towards reducing the high rates of maternal and child mortality in Sierra Leone which are among the highest in the world. According to the Demographic and Health Survey 2008, 140 children out of every 1,000 die before their fifth birthday and 856 women out of every 100,000 die during the process of giving birth.
“This is a life saving catalyst and parents should see it as an effective preventive measure for their children”, said Mrs. Zainab Hawa Bangura, Minister of Health and Sanitation. “The MDGs 4 and 5 on child and maternal health will only be achieved with total support from parents, especially mothers by making sure they take their children to access full immunization which is free”.