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Pakistan will begin vaccinating under-fives against pneumonia

Pakistan has announced it will become the first country in South Asia to introduce a vaccine against pneumococcal disease in children.

Globally, over 1.3 million children die each year from pneumonia and Pakistan accounts for around one fifth of those deaths. The vaccine will be part of the country’s expanded programme of immunisation (EPI), which is supported by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), the UN’s child agency UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The introduction of the vaccine has been made possible thanks to a significant reduction in its cost through the ‘advanced market commitment scheme’ sponsored by GAVI. According to an article in The Guardian, the chairman of Pakistan’s immunisation technical advisory group said that in the USA, a unit of the vaccine would cost around 45 dollars, but through the GAVI scheme, it will be offered to Pakistan at a cost of 3.50 dollars a unit.

For the first three months, the pneumococcal vaccine will be rolled out in Punjab province, where half the population lives. The second region to be targeted will be Sindh province, followed by the rest of the country in six to twelve months’ time. However, the readiness of provinces will need to be assessed. There is also some concern about whether certain communities will bring their children forward, especially after the fake vaccination programme used by US operatives to confirm the whereabouts of Osama Bin Laden. Already, there have been reports that the polio vaccination scheme has suffered in some areas after this incident.

However local health experts believe the introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine will go smoothly, especially following the endorsement of the country’s prime minister, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf, who has chosen to announce the new programme. With the clear backing of the Pakistani government, a spokesperson for GAVI told news reporters that the organisation was confident the lives of “tens of thousands” of children could be saved, making a dramatic difference to the number of child deaths and life expectancy in Pakistan. GAVI’s chief executive said “this is a vaccine that families understand” when referring to the challenge of disease and death among children in the country.

While the pneumococcal vaccine cannot prevent every case of pneumonia in the young, it is capable of protecting many from illness and death, thus making significant progress in the battle against one of the biggest child killers in Pakistan.

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