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GAMBIA: Pneumococcal immunization campaign underway

Posted by African Press International on August 22, 2009



Photo: Alimbek Tashtankulov/IRIN
Overlooked tool to fight pneumococcal disease (file photo)

DAKAR, – Health officials have launched a nationwide pneumococcal vaccine campaign in the Gambia, where one in six deaths is caused by pneumonia the most common pneumococcal illness according to the World Health Organization (WHO).

Researchers from the US-based Johns Hopkins School of Public Health estimate at least 5,000 children fall ill to pneumococcal disease every year in the Gambia, leading to hundreds of deaths.

A director of the schools PneumoADIP project, which researches pneumococcal disease and vaccines, told IRIN pneumococcal disease is deadly but preventable. Every 15 minutes 23 children [worldwide] die of pneumococcal disease, but there is a solution, said information director Lois Privor-Dumm.

Depending on where the bacteria attack in the body, the illness can show up as pneumonia (lungs), meningitis (brain), or bacteraemia (bloodstream). Together, these pneumococcal diseases are the leading preventable killers of under-five children worldwide, according to WHO.

The vaccine introduced in the Gambia Prevenar, produced by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals is expected to prevent half of the forms of pneumococcal diseases found in Gambia, Privor-Dumm told IRIN. Given the high disease mortality in Gambia, even though we are not getting all the types of pneumococcal diseases, this is still significant.

Wyeth donated 3.1 million vaccine doses for Rwanda and the Gambia, the first two developing countries selected to receive the vaccine. Almost half of the vaccines will be delivered to the countries this year with the remainder expected to be delivered in 2010, said Privor-Dumm.

Commitments

While vaccines exist for pneumococcal diseases, they are not widely available in poor countries where 95 percent of such diseases occur, according to WHO.

The Johns Hopkins public health schools Privor-Dumm said new vaccines historically take up to two decades to reach the poorest countries, but that a continuous push from the research and donor community has halved the time for pneumococcal vaccines. We are turning a tide against a major child killer. Countries, donors and suppliers are now recognizing we have an opportunity to save millions of lives by making this vaccine available at an affordable price through the AMC [advanced market commitment].

With the donor-backed commitments, drug manufacturers produce vaccines for poor countries at reduced prices in exchange for guaranteed donor-funded orders over the long-term.

While the price of US$7 per dose for vaccines used in developing countries is 10 times less than what manufactures would be paid in wealthier countries, this is still enough of an incentive to get drug manufacturers to invest in developing countries, according to the GAVI Alliance, formerly known as the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation.

With donor support, the final cost to developing country governments can be as low as 15 cents per dose, according to PneumoADIP.

The UN Childrens Fund (UNICEF) is expected to issue a call for bids in September from drug manufacturers interested in producing some of the estimated 200 million pneumococcal vaccines to be funded in the pilot advanced market commitment.

Pneumococcal disease was one of six diseases considered for funding through advanced commitments, GAVIs director of information, Jeffrey Rowland, told IRIN. Pneumococcal vaccines were the best choice for a pilot AMC because of the potential to quickly demonstrate that the AMC concept works.

If 60 countries that qualify for GAVI support introduced the pneumococcal vaccine, seven million children could be saved by 2030, according to GAVI.

Johns Hopkins Privor-Dumm told IRIN it will take more than vaccines to prevent pneumococcal deaths.

As public health professionals we need to recognize that fighting pneumonia will take a multi-faceted approach. There is no silver bullet. We need breastfeeding, antibiotics and vaccines. It must be integrated, but the solution does exist.

pt/np source.ke

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