The importance of a vaccine for childhood pneumonia
This being National Immunisation Week, we focus on a vaccine for pneumonia, one of the illnesses that target children, and is responsible for the majority of infant morbidity and mortality rates.
‘I want to point out to you that pneumonia is a leading cause of hospitalisation, both in developed and developing countries. It is still the leading cause of hospitalisation in the United States, where I work. The difference is that the numbers of deaths are much smaller; there are about 1.5 million deaths each year, globally. That translates to 4000 deaths a day, 98% of the deaths are in developing countries, mostly South Asia and Africa’, says Manthuram Santosham, professor at the departments of International Health and Paediatrics at Johns Hopkins University, in the United States of America, in an interview with Health-e.
Santosham added that the failure to protect babies and infants from pneumonia will make it impossible for developing nations to fulfil their commitment to Millennium Development Goal 5, which aims to reduce child mortality.
‘If you look at Southern Asia, there were 122 deaths per 1000 live births in 1990. In 2007, there was 77 – a significant drop – but our goal is to get it down to 41 deaths per 1000 live births, we are not on track in Asia. Unfortunately, in Sub-Saharan Africa, in 1990 there were 183 deaths per 1000 live births. They reduced it to 145 in 2007. The target is to get it down to 61 deaths per 1000 live births. There is absolutely no way we can reach this target unless we use effective vaccines to reduce pneumonia’, he explained.
The African continent has the highest proportion of child deaths due to pneumonia. About 45% occur in Africa.
‘The issue in Africa and many parts of South Africa, a well resourced country, is the issue of poverty and limited access to health care facilities. The inability of children to be taken time-ously to health care centres for treatment. There are risk factors which can be predisposing factors to childhood pneumonia. All of these are much more prevalent in many African settings, such as poor nutrition. Thirty percent of African children are malnourished. Overcrowding is a major issue’¦air pollution ‘¦ we are in an environment where we still rely on fossil fuels for cooking, eating and a whole range of other things’, said Professor Shabir Madhi of the University of the Witwatersrand, in Johannesburg.
Scientists have stressed the importance of vaccinations to deal with these challenges. Professor Madhi says it’s the dawn of a new era that there is now an intervention to prevent bacteria that is the most common cause of severe pneumonia. He says the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) has been tested worldwide and is associated with the reduction of child mortality.
‘The one strong message that comes through is that the use of the vaccine is associated with the reduction in pneumonia. In fact, the use of the vaccine is associated with all causes of child mortality. For every 1000 children vaccinated in Gambia, 7 of them were protected from dying – not from developing pneumonia – but from dying, in Gambia. So, it clearly has an important role in Africa, it is able to reduce diseases in children’, says Professor Madhi.
However, scientists say it will still take time for this vaccine to reach children much more quickly in developing countries due to the costs involved.