Nicaragua is the first of 40 developing countries to receive a new vaccine against pneumonia. Sub-Saharan African countries are expected to soon follow.
Pneumonia is one of the two top killers of young children around the world, the other being diarrheal disease.
The vaccine is being rolled out by the GAVI alliance, a public-private partnership that includes governments, U.N. agencies, private companies and individuals.
GAVI spokesperson Dan Thomas is in Nicaragua for Sunday’s vaccine launch. He says, “This is basically the first time that we’ve been able to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine into the developing world in a sustainable way.”
He adds, “Pneumococcal disease is basically one of the most deadly strains of pneumonia, and pneumonia is the biggest killer of children under five globally, accounting for around 20 percent of deaths of children under five worldwide.”
Making an offer they could refuse
“This vaccine has come about after a process called the advanced market commitment, where the GAVI Alliance essentially set a standard for the vaccine that we wanted to purchase for the poorest countries. And we reached out with an incentive to the pharmaceutical industry to supply it,” he says.
The incentive called for a fixed per dose price of (US)$3.50. That’s a guaranteed price for the drug companies. Nevertheless, the cost for GAVI reflects a 90 percent reduction compared with the same vaccine being sold in the EU and the U.S.
Nicaragua was chosen for the introduction of the vaccine for a number of reasons.
“Nicaragua,” says Thomas, “is one of the countries supported by the GAVI Alliance. It’s done extremely well over the years. They’re reaching 98 percent of children on a routine basis with immunization. They got an extremely effective health system in place…. And a very effective political leadership.”
He says Nicaragua “clearly believes” in the long term benefits of immunizing its children. The vaccine would help reverse a trend in Nicaragua whereby 20 percent of deaths of those under age were blamed on pneumonia.
Rollout in sub-Saharan Africa is expected soon.
“We’re expecting to introduce it into African countries early in 2011. We’re hoping by January and February next year we’ll have it in Kenya, Sierra Leone, Democratic Republic of Congo and also into the Middle East. Yemen is one of the countries which will be rolling it out early next year,” he says.
GAVI says the vaccine will help achieve the Millennium Development Goal that calls for a two-thirds reduction of under five childhood mortality by 2015.
“If we can get it out into all 40 countries between now and 2015, we know that we can save almost a million lives,” says Thomas, “And between now and 2030 we can save about seven million lives. So you can see the effectiveness of this vaccine to combat the strains of pneumonia that are really killing children at a very young age, often before their first or second birthday.”