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Pakistan to Vaccinate Children Against Pneumonia-Causing Bacterium


Respiratory sickness is one of the biggest killers of young children in the developing world. Each year, millions of children under the age of 5 develop pneumonia from a bacterium called Haemophilus influenza B - or HiB - and hundreds of thousands of them die. HiB is also a major cause of the brain infection meningitis. But, as Rose Hoban reports, the future looks a little brighter for children in Pakistan, where government officials are about to introduce a vaccine to prevent them from becoming infected with HiB.

"Mortality varies from region to region. Some regions still have a lot of mortality," says Dr. Rana Hajjeh, who works with GAVI - the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization.

"In Pakistan, over all, it's estimated that about 10 percent of children still do not reach their fifth birthday, and Pakistan is still among the countries that have the highest childhood mortality in the world."

But Pakistan will join a growing number of countries providing vaccination against the HiB bacteria.

HiB vaccine has been around for close to 20 years, but cost was an obstacle in many developing countries. Now with help from GAVI, many of these countries are signing up to add it to their regular programs for immunization.

"In addition to preventing this particular disease, which is very important cause by itself, these vaccines also help these countries in reaching their Millennium Development goal number four, which is the goal to reduce the childhood mortality by two-thirds by the year 2015," Hajjeh says.

GAVI subsidizes the cost of these vaccines in low-income countries where the vaccines haven't been given before.

"In the case of Pakistan, they have to pay not even 10 percent, a little bit less than 10 percent of the overall cost of the vaccine," Hajjeh says. "The rest of it will be paid by GAVI."

Hajjeh says the HiB vaccine will be added to other vaccines already given to children, so children will actually be immunized against five diseases in one injection.

"These are the routine vaccines for childhood immunizations which is DTP - that's diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, in addition to hepatitis B and HiB," she explains.

"So, five vaccines basically in one. And the schedule is usually three doses given before the age of four months. The WHO schedule is six weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks," Hajjeh says.

The new five-vaccine shot is being introduced in parts of Pakistan in November. Hajjeh expects it will take only a few more months to get the vaccine distributed to all regions of the country. The new five-vaccine shot will replace a four-vaccine shot that has been in use for the past several years.

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