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Vital new vaccines and health plan for the DR Congo and worldwide

A new 10-year action plan drawn up by United Nations agencies aims to stop 2 million young children dying each year from preventable diseases.

Under the new plan, which has an estimated cost of 6 billion dollars, UN organisations believe that preventable child deaths from pneumonia and severe diarrhoea could be eradicated by 2025. This would be achieved over a period of ten years by a range of proposed measures (following on from a report published last year by the UN Child’s agency – Pneumonia and diarrhoea: Tackling the deadliest diseases for the world’s poorest children).

To reduce deaths, the UN plan would ensure 90% of children under five have access to antibiotics for pneumonia and life-saving oral rehydration salts for diarrhoea. Speaking to the news agency Reuters, the director of maternal, newborn, child and adolescent health at the World Health Organization said “children are dying because services are provided piecemeal and those most at risk are not being reached”. There would also be an ‘integrated approach’ to improving breastfeeding rates and access to safe water and sanitation, as well as reductions in air pollution from indoor cooking smoke.

Success is also dependent on much higher uptakes of newer vaccines against pneumococcal bacteria, which causes around a fifth of severe pneumonia cases and against the rotarvirus, which is to blame for around half of deaths from diarrhoea. Many countries are already introducing these newer vaccines, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where children are particularly at risk of dying from these illnesses.

One such country is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DR Congo). Here, the pneumococcal vaccine was introduced in 2011 with support from the GAVI alliance. The vaccine is now being used in five provinces and there is a plan to scale-up the programme in 2013.

As with any vaccination programme in the DR Congo, reaching all children across this vast country, where many roads are impassable, is a huge challenge. In certain provinces, vaccines have to be delivered by plane to local health centres, from where they must often be transported in a vaccine cooler to remote villages by car, motorcycle, boat or on foot. Support has therefore been needed to strengthen the crucial chain of supply, so that vaccines reach their final destination.

Speaking through the GAVI Alliance, the minister for health in the DR Congo admitted “the challenges to reach every single child with vaccinations are massive. But by working together, we can save the lives of our children.”

Laurinda Luffman signature