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Sunday 24th June 2018

African children needn't die

18th January 2007

The World Health Organisation is meeting with African leaders this week in Brazzaville, Congo, to chart the course of immunisation and child health programmes for the prevention of childhood pneumonia.


The meeting comes at an important time, when the HIV epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa is fuelling larges increases in pneumonia cases, and antibiotic resistance is worsening.

"For years, pneumonia has gone about its business of inflicting suffering on families and children. Today, pneumonia will claim the lives of nearly 2,800 children in sub-Saharan Africa," write Orin Levine and Rana Hajjeh, of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Maryland, USA.

"But pneumonia's hold on African children could soon be history," they say, pointing to immunisation through vaccination as a way to prevent child pneumonia deaths, which are caused by bacteria known as pneumococcus and Hib.

The vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective in recent trials. One clinical trial from The Gambia showed that pneumococcal vaccination reduced the risk of death in children by 16%. Another showed that Hib vaccination prevented 20% of serious pneumonias. Others are in the pipeline.

Thanks to new financing initiatives from the GAVI Alliance and the GAVI Fund, countries will be able to acquire both vaccines at a cost they can afford (between US$0.15 and US$0.43 per dose for most African countries).

"The missing link is the political will to make the introduction of these vaccines a national priority. We hope that this is just what the WHO's meeting participants will do today. If they do, it means a bleak future for pneumonia and a bright one for African children."


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