disease – including pneumonia and meningitis – kills more than one and a half
million people each year. Most of them are children. But many of those deaths
can be prevented with a vaccine. On Friday (April 24th), a rural clinic in Rwanda will be the site
of the first national immunization program against pneumococcal disease in a
developing nation. The vaccine program
is a joint effort by the Rwandan government, the GAVI Alliance, Wyeth
Pharmaceuticals and PneumoADIP.
Lob-Levyt, CEO of the GAVI Alliance, a public and private health partnership,
is taking part in the vaccination effort.
"We'll be gathering
together at a health center here in Rwanda to deliver the first dose of
pneumococcal vaccine to hundreds of babies. And this first is a first in Africa
in terms of the first rollout nationally of a program that's gradually going to
save an increasing number of lives. But not only in sub-Saharan Africa, but the
poorest countries in South Asia, Latin America and elsewhere," he says.
Dr. Orin Levine,
head of PneumoADIP, an arm of GAVI, says the Rwandan vaccine program could only
be achieved with international cooperation and support.
support, Rwanda will end up having a national immunization program,
pneumococcal vaccine, before wealthy countries like Finland or Japan,
Singapore, Austria or Poland. And that's really an indication of our ability to
try to really speed up these launches and overcome financing as an obstacle to
the use of vaccines where they're needed the most," he says.
pneumococcal diseases can have long-term economic and productivity consequences.
meningitis, for example, kills or disables up to one half of the children who
get it, even with access to hospital care here in Africa. And when those
children survive the children, who are disabled afterwards, often have things
like learning disabilities, hearing disabilities, mental impairment that limit
their educational achievement and incur costs for households and families.
These are preventable disabilities and preventable economic costs with the vaccine,"
HIV infection and
sickle cell disease make contraction of pneumococcal diseases more likely. Both
are prevalent in Africa and can increase the risk of pneumococcal disease 40
fold. Levine says studies
prove the vaccine is extremely effective in saving lives.
"In South Africa, the vaccine was shown to be
protective, both in HIV-infected and uninfected children. And in The Gambia, in
a typical, rural, West African population, the vaccine reduced child mortality
due to any cause by 16 percent," he says.
Rwandan Health Minister, Dr. Richard
Sezibera, says eventually the program will vaccinate 400,000 children per year.
"We are excited, not only because Rwandan children
will be receiving the vaccine,whichisimportant in itself, but also excited
because for the first time we are now beginning tosee, thanks to a global
alliance, a determination to make sure that those with the highest disease
burden also receive a share of the global finance for health. And that is
important for us," he says.
The vaccine, Prevenar, was developed by Wyeth
Pharmaceuticals. James Connolly, the firm's vice-president and general
manager for vaccines, says, "Prevenar 13 is designed to provide broad
protection against 13 of the most prevalent strains of pneumococcal disease
worldwide, including strains are endemic to the developing world and countries
like Rwanda. To date, Wyeth has invested more than a billion and a half dollars
in R&D (research and development) programs so that current and future
generations are protected against the ravages of pneumococcal disease."
Wyeth is donating millions of doses of
Prevenar 13 for the program. It is part of efforts to achieve the Millennium
Development Goal of reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015.