Addis Abbaba – Millions of Ethiopian children will begin to receive protection from pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis this weekend when Ethiopia joins a growing list of developing nations to introduce vaccines against pneumococcal disease.
Pneumococcal disease is the leading cause of pneumonia, the biggest infectious killer of children under five in Ethiopia and around the world. Globally, pneumonia is responsible for 4,300 child deaths every day or one every 20 seconds. Children with HIV/AIDS are up to 40 times more likely to contract pneumococcal disease than HIV-negative children.
On Sunday, the Ministry of Health will begin the largest introduction of pneumococcal vaccines in a developing country to date, as part of its national immunisation programme. This is part of an ambitious globalroll out plan funded by the GAVI Alliance which aims to reach more than 40 countries and immunise 90 million children against pneumococcal disease by 2015. This will avert approximately 700,000 deaths by 2015 and up to seven million deaths by 2030 (1).
“In Ethiopia under 5 mortality had declined dramatically in the past 5 years. One of the major contributors to child death is pneumonia and the introduction of pneumococcal vaccine will help us cut child death further and achieve MDG 4 by 2015,” said Ethiopia’s Minister of Health, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. “This introduction represents a big step forward for our nation and I would like to express my sincere appreciation of GAVI’s continued support.”
The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is a highly complex and sophisticated vaccine that in the past might otherwise have taken up to 15 years to be accessible to children in the world’s poorest countries. Thanks to the work of the GAVI Alliance, its donors and partners, these children will not have to wait.
“No child should have to die of a disease that we can prevent with vaccines. The introduction of these pneumococcal vaccines is extremely significant because it means children in Ethiopia and other developing nations are getting access to the best technology available at the same time as children in richer countries,” said Seth Berkley MD, GAVI’s Chief Executive Officer.
“Vaccines are one of the most powerful weapons we have to prevent diseases such as pneumococcal disease, one of the leading killers of children,” said Ted Chaiban, UNICEF Representative to Ethiopia. “With the introduction of the vaccine against pneumococcal disease to Ethiopia and other countries that would not have been able to afford them previously, we hope to build on the success we have seen in the global fight against other vaccine-preventable diseases.”
In 2007, WHO recommended the introduction of pneumococcal vaccines into all national immunisation programmes, particularly in countries with high child mortality.
“With increasing number of countries introducing the new-generation pneumococcal vaccine, its impact on lives saved by preventing the most common cause of pneumonia deaths will be significant”, said Dr Jean-Marie Okwo-Bele, Director of the Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals Department at WHO. “WHO is committed to supporting countries in making evidence-based decisions and scaling up their immunization programmes to ensure that all children have access to this high impact vaccine”.
In addition, the national scale-up of community-based treatment of pneumonia with oral antibiotics by health extension workers will also help further reduce child mortality significantly in Ethiopia. A functional cold chain, sustainable financing, trained health workers and a reliable information system are some of the critical elements for a successful EPI programme (Expanded Programme on Immunisation) and the introduction of new vaccines presents a good opportunity to improve the quality of routine EPI programmes.
To date, 15 countries have started the introduction of the latest generation pneumococcal vaccines as part of their national immunisation programmes. Nicaragua, Kenya, Guyana, Sierra Leone, Yemen, Honduras, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Central African Republic, Gambia, Benin, Cameroon, Rwanda, and Burundi are the countries that introduced the pneumococcal vaccine in recent months with GAVI support.
The roll-out of the pneumococcal vaccines in developing countries, which began in Nicaragua in December 2010, has been made possible through an innovative finance mechanism pioneered by GAVI called the Advance MarketCommitment (AMC).
With US$ 1.5 billion from Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Russian Federation, Norway, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a commitment of US$ 1.3 billion from GAVI, the AMC allowed the acceleration of production capacity by the manufacturers who currently produce the pneumococcal vaccines.
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Editor’s note: Ethiopia, which has experienced a 28 per cent reduction in under 5 mortality between 2005 and 2011, is also working with GAVI Alliance partners UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) to further strengthen efforts to control measles outbreaks in drought-affected areas and refugee camps by providing additional vaccines to Somalis left homeless from drought and conflict in their own country, as well as over 100 districts that are affected by drought.
The government and its partners are ramping up efforts to provide measles vaccines to all Somali children between the ages of 6 months and 14 years in refugee camps, along with nearly 7 million children in the drought-affected areas of Ethiopia.
Measles is one of the most infectious diseases in the world and prior to the start of widespread vaccination in 1980 it caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths each year. The disease remains one of the leading causes of death among young children globally, despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine. In 2008, an estimated 164,000 people died from measles, mostly children under the age of five.
The severe humanitarian crisis caused by widespread drought in the Horn of Africa and on-going conflict in Somalia requires an integrated humanitarian response that includes immunisation and other health interventions, nutrition, clean water supply, hygiene, child protection, and education for refugees and drought affected populations.
Despite the current humanitarian situation, the addition of pneumococcal vaccines in Ethiopia’s routine immunisation programme illustrates the country’s commitment to reduce the number of children who die from pneumonia every year.
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(1) Based on the latest Strategic Demand Forecast v2.0
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