UN-backed partners help DR Congo introduce pneumonia vaccine

4 April 2011

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today added the vaccine against pneumonia to its national immunisation programme in a United Nations-backed initiative to drastically improve the chances of survival for children under the age of five.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) today added the vaccine against pneumonia to its national immunisation programme in a United Nations-backed initiative to drastically improve the chances of survival for children under the age of five.

The expanded programme is supported by 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.

It will initially be rolled out in two of DRC’s 11 provinces as the country steps up the fight against pneumonia, one of the biggest killers of children worldwide, and is responsible for a quarter of all deaths of children under the age of five in the African nation.

DRC’s First Lady, Olive Lembe Kabila, and Health Minister Victor Makwenge Kaput joined parents and health workers in Kinshasa to witness the first child being inoculated as part of the official introduction of pneumococcal vaccine into the national routine immunization programme.

On the same day in Paris, GAVI founding partner Bill Gates launched a European-wide awareness campaign to highlight the extraordinary life-saving opportunity that vaccines represent for donor countries.

Globally, pneumococcal disease, the most common and serious form of respiratory infections, kills over a million people every year – including more than half a million children before their fifth birthday.

It is the leading cause of pneumonia, which is the major cause of death among children under the age of five, contributing to 18 per cent of the mortality of children in that age group.

“Today’s launch is an enormous moment for my country, where too many children die of this terrible disease,” said Mr. Kaput. “Pneumonia causes suffering and death. Therefore we celebrate a wonderful day today.”

Léodégal Bazira, the acting WHO Representative in DRC, said: “The introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine and the systematic immunization of the children could save the life of one in five children dying from respiratory infectious diseases.”

A 2004 study by UNICEF showed that that pneumonia killed at least 132,000 children under the age of five in DRC, making it the second biggest cause of death – after malaria – of children under the age in the country.

“With electricity, roads, and refrigerators in short supply, delivering vaccines to remote health centres in DRC is an enormous challenge,” said Pierrette Vu Thi, the UNICEF Representative in DRC. “Together with its partners UNICEF is committed to ensure that all children in this country have the same access to this life-saving vaccine.”

In the past five months, Nicaragua, Guyana, Yemen, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Mali also introduced pneumococcal vaccines thanks to support from GAVI.

 

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