Pneumo vaccines on their way to Malawi
More than 1.5 million children die every year from pneumonia, more than from any other disease. 98% of all childhood deaths from pneumonia occur in developing nations. The fight against pneumonia can be won. Estimates indicate that more than one million children’s lives can be saved annually with widespread use of vaccines and improved access to antibiotics.
Joint Global coalitions made of partners like, UNICEF, European Commission, Bill Gates Foundation, GAVI Alliance as well as individual EU Member States work together aiming to reduce more than 650,000 future deaths by 2015.
In 2009, WHO and UNICEF launched the Global action plan for the prevention and control of pneumonia (GAPP). The aim is to accelerate pneumonia control with a combination of interventions to protect, prevent, and treat pneumonia in children. This includes promoting breastfeeding, hand washing and reduced indoor air pollution, preventing illness through immunisation and ensuring access to the right kind of treatment.
The GAVI Alliance has committed to support the introduction of pneumococcal vaccines in 19 developing countries from 2010 to 2012 and plans to roll them out to more than 40 countries by 2015. It is a major contribution to Millennium Development Goals - to decrease childhood deaths by two-thirds by 2015 – that can only be achieved by an intensified effort to reduce pneumonia deaths.
Malawi is lined up to be the next country to introduce pneumococcal vaccines on 12 November 2011, coinciding with World Pneumonia Day. Reporting back from the field in Malawi, Aila Paloniemi, Finnish Member of Parliament, counts her experience witnessing immunisation programmes in the Mangwere health centre, a couple of weeks before the national pneumococcal vaccine introduction:
“In mid October this year (2011) I took part in a Nordic Parliamentary visit to Malawi upon the invitation from the Minister of Health and Population of Malawi, and organised by the GAVI Alliance.
The field visit was an eye-opener for me and gave me a clear impression of how the GAVI Alliance partners and the National Health Service operate in one of the world’s poorest countries.
During the visit I witnessed 205 babies being vaccinated with incredible speed and professionalism under a tree in the little village of Mangwere in the Selima district, some 120 km outside Lilongwe
The fact that immunisation services are provided as part of an integrated package of health services for the children in Malawi has resulted in impressively high coverage rates (it was reported that 81% of Malawi children are fully immunised against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenza type B, and measles) and subsequent considerable drop in child mortality.
Nevertheless, children are still dying. In Malawi the main child killers are malaria, pneumonia and diarrhoea. The good news is that there are vaccines against pneumococcal pneumonia and rotavirus diarrhoea. There is also a possibility for a malaria vaccine in the near future which gives us hope."
What is pneumonia
- Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, filling them with fluid
- It causes cough and fever and can make breathing difficult.
- Severe pneumonia can be deadly.
Who is most at risk?
- In developing countries, children under 5 and especially under 2 years of age are at risk, especially in the poorest communities.
- The elderly are also at risk.
- Tobacco smoke and other indoor air pollution can also increase chances of being more susceptible to pneumonia.
- Some children and adults are at greater risk because they have other illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS. People with HIV stand a much greater chance of dying from pneumonia than those who do not have HIV.
- Children who are poorly nourished can also have weakened immune systems, putting them at higher risk of contracting pneumonia.
What causes pneumonia?
- Many organisms can cause pneumonia.
- Globally, bacteria such as Hib and pneumococcus are estimated to cause more than 50% of pneumonia deaths in children under 5 years of age.
- Viruses and fungi can also cause pneumonia infections.
How is pneumonia diagnosed?
- In resource-poor settings, pneumonia can be diagnosed by the symptoms it causes, including cough, fever and difficulty or fast breathing.
- Chest X-rays and laboratory tests can also diagnose pneumonia, but these tools are often unavailable in developing countries, especially in remote rural communities, making it more difficult to diagnose and treat pneumonia.
How is pneumonia prevented and treated?
- Some pneumonia can often be prevented with vaccines against Hib and pneumococcus.
- Measles and pertussis (whooping cough) infections can result in pneumonia complications, so vaccinating against these childhood diseases can prevent some pneumonia cases.
- Inexpensive antibiotics can effectively treat pneumonia at the community level.
More about World Pneumonia Day, November the 12th: http://worldpneumoniaday.org/