The cutting edge pneumococcal vaccines are being brought out across the world’s poorest countries and are specially made to protect children against the strongest strains of the disease common in developing countries.
Every year, the bacteria, Streptococcus pneumonia, or pneumococcal disease, kills more than 500,000 children, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. It counts for 18 per cent of child deaths in developing countries, according to the World Health Organisation, which makes it one of the two leading causes of death among young children.
"The global introduction of pneumococcal vaccination marks a historic milestone in global health," said the World Health Organisation’s Matshidiso Moeti. "This single vaccine offers the world an unprecedented opportunity to reduce child mortality significantly."
Kenya is the first African country to bring out this new vaccine and Nicaragua, Guyana, Yemen and Sierra Leone will be next to follow.
Kenya’s president Mwai Kibaki joined parents and health workers, in the capital, Nairobi on Tuesday as the country officially adopted the vaccine into its routine immunisation programme for all children.
“Today’s introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine in Kenya is an historic step towards improved health for children in Kenya and in other developing countries,” said Kenya’s public health minister, Beth Mugo.
“The global introduction of pneumococcal vaccination is a milestone in global health and will help us reduce child mortality.”
By rapidly scaling up the roll-out of the vaccine to more than 40 countries, including Kenya, The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), says it can prevent about 700,000 deaths by 2015 and up to seven million deaths by 2030.
“The roll-out of the pneumococcal vaccine has become a reality across the world allowing developing country governments to reduce deaths and enable millions of children to grow up healthy,” said GAVI’s Helen Evans.
“Routine vaccination is one of the most cost-effective public health investments a government can make and we are counting on our donors to continue their strong backing for our life-saving mission.”
Childhood pneumonia is a major public health issue for Kenya. In 2008, it was the second leading cause of death among under fives, claiming over 30,000 children’s’ lives. Pneumococcal disease is caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae, also known as pneumococcus, is the number one vaccine preventable cause of death among under fives globally. Serious pneumococcal infections include pneumonia, meningitis, and sepsis. Young children, especially babies are at greatest risk.