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Gambia Introduces New Vaccine

Aug 18, 2009, 6:20 AM | Article By: Sainey MK Marenah

The Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) under the auspices of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare has introduced a new vaccine, dubbed pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (pcv-7) in its routine immunisation services to help children against pnemococcal diseases and meningitis.

The Gambia, according to health experts, is the second country in Africa after Rwanda to introduce this new vaccine in its routine immunisation services, and it is envisaged that the new vaccine will have a great impact in reducing childhood morbidity and mortality.

At a press conference yesterday to update media practitioners on the state of preparation and progress made for the upcoming PCV-7 introduction in order to solicit support for advocacy and sensitisation, Dr Bekai Camara, the Director of Health Services at the Ministry of Health, said that pnemococcal disease is a leading infectious killer of children and adult worldwide.

He added that the disease kills up to 1% of all children born in high mortality areas and costs health systems and households a lot in terms of acute care and costs.

Dr Camara stated that pneumococcal meningitis and ear infections leave survivors with hearing loss and learning disability.

"Pneumococcal meningitis leaves ~ 50% of surviving children with life-long disabilities that impede economic productivity", he said.

He said that pneumococcal disease is common and affects persons of all ages, but some groups, particularly, are at high risk especially infants.

Pneumococcal disease- including pneumonia, according to Dr Camara, takes a devastating toll in developing countries.

"More than 150 million cases of pneumonia occur every year among children under five in developing countries, accounting for more than 95 percent of all new cases worldwide," he stated.

He noted that the most common causes of severe pneumonia in the developing world are streptococcus pneumonia and homophiles influenza type b.

In March 2007, he added, "the WHO issued a position paper stating that pneumococcal conjugate vaccine should be a priority for inclusion in national childhood immunisation programmes".

Dr Camara, however, revealed that pneumonia kills more children than any other disease, noting that it causes nearly 1 in 5 deaths of children under five worldwide and kills more children than AIDs, malaria and measles combined. He noted that pneumococcal meningitis kills, and can cause lifelong disabilities for survivors.

"As many as one in four children in developing countries who contract and survive pneumococcal meningitis are left with serious disabilities, including cerebral palsy, epilepsy, brain damage, kidney disease, deafness, limb amputations and developmental delays", he said.

Dr Camara further said that Pneumococcal disease is preventable, safe and effective vaccine that currently exists to prevent deaths in children and adults.

In 2000, he continued, a new 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7) became available and is currently in use in over 70 countries. The vaccine, he said, is expected to prevent 50-80 percent of all serious pneumococcal infections in children worldwide and have the potential to make a major health impact, especially, in rural settings where access to treatment is limited.

Dilating on the effectiveness of the new vaccine, Dr Camara went on, "a full series of the 7-valent conjugate PCV-7 vaccine is 97% effective in preventing invasion pneumoccocci contained in the vaccine".

The vaccine, he stated, is 89% effective in preventing 'invasion disease' caused by all strains of the pneumococcal and reduced the incidence of ear infection by about 10%.

Other speakers included Mr. Dawda Sowe of the Expanded Programme on Immunisation, Rohey  Njie of the Health and Education Unit, and Dawda Mendy, among others.