Pneumonia vaccine for all

Pneumonia vaccine for all

The high mortality rate in children under the age of five years might soon be a thing of the past. This follows the announcement by the Department of Health that it will roll-out Prevenar, a vaccine that prevents pneumococcus pneumonia, one of the leading causes of child deaths.

The Department of Health has announced that the vaccine, which was only available in private hospitals at a high cost of R1600, will soon be available in public hospitals.

‘€œThis is one of the most important announcements this year made in relation to health’€¦ that they are introducing this vaccine to become part of the routine immunization program. And we hope that we will be able to then show the immense benefit that this vaccine will have in preventing death in children less than five years of age,’€ said Dr Anne von Gottberg, a Clinical Microbiologist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases.

South Africa has made no progress in reducing the child mortality rate in the past 18 years, according to the 2008 Lancet report, a respected British medical journal. It says the country’€™s child mortality rate had risen from 60 to 69 deaths per 1000 live births between 1990 and 2006. The report singles out HIV and AIDS as being responsible for 57 percent of child deaths.

Pneumonia is one of the opportunistic infections associated with HIV infection. Dr von Gottberg added that the availability of the vaccine in the public sector ‘€œwill prevent a lot of the opportunistic infections that are related to HIV/AIDS children. Streptococcus pneumonia is one of the most important bacterial opportunistic infections that are found in children with HIV,’€ she said.

The vaccine will be first made available in the Eastern Cape later this year, and will then be rolled out nationally early next year. Dr von Gottberg says there is also a plan in place to accommodate those babies and children who might, for a number of reasons, miss the vaccine.    

‘€œIf the children miss these visits or as they are older, because when this vaccine is introduced some children will be old to be eligible for these visits, there will be also a catch-up campaign where older children will also be eligible to receive the vaccine,’€ she said.

The vaccine was first introduced in 2005. But it was only available in private hospitals at an exorbitant cost of R1600. Dr David Bloom, Manager of Global Health Studies at Harvard University in the US, says expenditure on making the childhood vaccine available in the public health sector should be viewed as a positive step forward.

‘€œSpending on childhood vaccination programs does a lot more than just reduce morbidity and mortality. It also promotes national economic growth and poverty reduction – both of which are crucial issues here in South Africa,’€ said Dr Bloom.The vaccine is regarded as highly effective in preventing pneumococcus pneumonia, which according to the 2006 report of the United Nations’€™ Children Fund (UNICEF), kills two million children worldwide every year.


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