Hundreds of infants in Kenya received their first shots against pneumococcal disease today at a special United Nations-backed event to celebrate the global roll-out of vaccines targeting the world`s leading cause of child deaths " pneumonia.
President Mwai Kibaki joined parents, health workers, ambassadors and donors in Nairobi to witness children being immunised as part of the Government`s formal introduction of pneumococcal vaccine in its routine immunisation programme for all children.
Kenya is the first African country to introduce the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine which has been tailored to meet the needs of children in developing countries.
Nicaragua, Guyana, Yemen and Sierra Leone are also rolling out the vaccine with support from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) which brings together governments, the UN Children`s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other key players in global health.
Pneumococcal disease currently takes the lives of over a million people every year " including more than half a million children before their fifth birthday.
Pneumonia is the most common form of serious pneumococcal disease and accounts for 18 per cent of child deaths in developing countries, making it one of the two leading causes of death among young children.
The pneumococcal vaccine can help us to dramatically reduce the number of children who die from pneumonia, a killer disease that is responsible for millions of deaths globally every year, " said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake.
By combining the power of immunisation with other measures like better nutrition and sanitation, we can change " and save " millions of children`s lives. "
The GAVI Alliance has committed to support the introduction of pneumococcal vaccines in 19 developing countries within a year and, if it gets sufficient funding from its donors, plans to roll them out to more than 40 countries by 2015.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan noted that the rapid roll-out of the pneumococcal vaccine shows how innovation and technology can be harnessed, at affordable prices, to save lives in the developing world.
The payback, as measured by reduced childhood mortality, will be enormous, " said Dr. Chan.
GAVI needs an additional $3.7 billion over the next five years to continue its support for immunisation in the world`s poorest countries and introduce new and underused vaccines, including the pneumococcal vaccine and the rotavirus vaccine which tackles diarrhoea " the second biggest killer of children under five.
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, " said Helen Evans, interim CEO of the GAVI Alliance.
Since it was launched at the World Economic Forum in 2000, GAVI has prevented more than five million future deaths and helped protect 288 million children with new and underused vaccines.