Ghana pioneers new child vaccines for pneumonia, diarrhoeaBy FRANCIS KOKUTSE in Accra and BBC | Friday, April 27 2012 at 18:46
Ghana has become the first country in Africa to start protecting children against two of the continent's deadliest infant diseases with simultaneous vaccinations.
The diseases targeted are rotavirus, which causes diarrhoea, and pneumococcal, both of which kill more than 2.7 million children worldwide each year.
The project is backed by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation.
At the launch, Health minister Alban Bagbin said the programme marked a "major fight-back".
"Our children have been dying from these vaccine-preventable diseases for too long," he said.
When combined with existing programmes against polio, measles and tuberculosis, Mr Bagbin said Ghana was on track to meet its target to cut childhood mortality by two-thirds by 2015.
According to the International Vaccine Access Centre (IVAC), pneumonia was one of the leading killers of Ghanaian children, accounting for about 10 per cent of child mortality.
In addition, diarrhoea took the lives of 2,090 Ghanaian children under five each year, accounting for 3.6 of under-five deaths, according to official figures.
The Ghana Health Service (GHS) puts the present child mortality rate at 80 for every 1,000 live births.
Ghana’s First Lady Ernestina Naadu Mills, who attended the launch of the vaccines in Accra, decried the child mortality rate as "unacceptable".
She said: “It is unacceptable that, a child should die before the first birthday as a result of missing out on immunisation."
She also assured that the government was making every effort to improve the country’s sanitation and water supply, which would check diarrhoea.
The chief executive of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi), Dr Seth Berkley, explained that the combined treatment had become possible thanks to adequate health facilities in Ghana, combined with sufficient stocks of vaccine, and robust international funding.
"[The programme] gets these vaccines together out to people who need them, and you can do one large social mobilisation to try to get the population to understand that we're tackling these two largest killers," Dr Berkley said.
Last year, Gavi secured supplies of the vaccines from major pharmaceutical companies at a large discount.
The organisation brings together the World Health Organisation, the UN's children's charity Unicef, the World Bank, vaccine companies and the charity set up by the Microsoft founder Bill Gates.
The start of the Ghana programme comes during what the WHO has described as World Immunisation Week.
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