Pneumococcal vaccine will save many African children, UN health officials say
With pneumonia estimated to kill nearly 2 million children worldwide every year, top United Nations health officials have welcomed the results of a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine trial in Gambia as demonstrating that a significant proportion of illness, disability and death in African children can be averted.
“The results of this vaccine trial hold great promise for improving health and saving lives in resource-poor populations,” World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Lee Jong-wook said of the results published last week in the British medical journal Lancet.
“The international community's task now is to continue to work together productively to make the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine widely available to children in Africa, as lives are lost every minute to pneumococcal disease.
“Immunizing children with pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in developing countries will be a critical intervention towards achieving a two-thirds reduction in the under-five mortality rate, a Millennium Development Goal (MDG),” he added of the targets set by the UN Millennium Summit of 2000 that seek to slash poverty, hunger and mortality by 2015.
In a trial in eastern Gambia of 17,437 children aged 6 to 51 weeks that began in August 2000, 8,719 received a diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis-Haemophilus influenzae serotype b vaccine, while 8,718 received pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. In the latter group there were 37 per cent fewer cases of pneumonia, 15 per cent fewer hospital admissions, 16 per cent reduction in overall mortality, and half the rate of laboratory-confirmed pneumococcal pneumonia, meningitis and septicaemia.
Moreover, the vaccine was 77 per cent effective in preventing infections caused by nine serotypes (strains) of pneumococcal bacteria.
A similar vaccine has had a dramatic impact on reducing pneumococcal disease in the United States. The trial in the Gambia now clearly demonstrates that a significant proportion of illness, disability and death in African children can be averted through vaccination against this disease, a leading killer especially of young children in developing countries, accounting for about 18 per cent of the more than 10 million annual childhood deaths worldwide, WHO said.
“Experience has shown that in areas where health systems are unable to provide hard to reach, rural populations with round-the-clock access to high-quality curative care, immunization can be delivered through outreach services to great benefit,” said Thomas Cherian, Team Coordinator in the WHO Initiative for Vaccine Research, which supported the trial.
“The pneumococcal vaccine will therefore will therefore be particularly important to save lives in the most disadvantaged populations.”