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South Asia's first pneumonia vaccine launched in Pak

Nov 06, 2012

The introduction of a vaccine for pneumonia is an important milestone in the fight to reduce the burden caused by pneumonia in Pakistan, accounting for one of every five children dying before their fifth birthday.

When Mir Hazar Khan Bijrani, Pakistan's Minister for Inter Provincial Coordination (IPC) announced the introduction of a new vaccine to protect Pakistani children from pneumonia last month, he was aware of the historic significance of the moment. Pakistan became the first country in South Asia to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine.

Pneumonia takes the lives of approximately 1.3 million children globally before their fifth birthday in Pakistan.

"As the first country in South Asia to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine, Pakistan’s commitment to immunizing all children against vaccine preventable diseases is to be applauded," UNICEF Pakistan Country Representative, Dan Rohrmann said. "We are proud to partner with the Government of Pakistan in its efforts to innoculate millions of children against a disease that continues to take too many lives."

The latest UN estimates indicate that pneumonia accounts for 18 percent of child mortality - the primary cause of death among young children globally. In Pakistan, more than 352,000 children die before reaching their fifth birthday and almost one in five of these deaths are due to pneumonia - or, aptly put, over 70,000 children die of pnenmonia. While the new pneumococcal vaccines cannot prevent every case of pneumonia, they do prevent a significant proportion of cases and therefore have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives from preventable sickness and death.

The introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine is an important milestone in the fight to reduce the burden caused by pneumonia in Pakistan. The partnership between the Government of Pakistan and the GAVI Alliance – which includes UNICEF, WHO and civil society, among many other partners - to deliver this life-saving vaccine to Pakistan's children, as well as a renewed commitment to strengthening the current routine immunisation system, provides a solid foundation for a stronger, healthier nation.With incentives for manufacturers to produce large quantities of the vaccine in the form of a innovative Advance Market Commitment (AMC) initiated by GAVI, the pneumococcal vaccine is now available in Pakistan. This may also be the first step to make the country an exporter of the vaccine to other developing countries which need the vaccine. These countries would have had to wait for as much as a decade earlier than they historically would have done.

The AMC is funded by Canada, Italy, Norway, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Communities in Pakistan are largely rural and scattered across the country. The total expenditure on health from the gross domestic product is less than 2 per cent, and health services are mainly provided by the private sector. The health indicators are very poor and high-risk diseases include water-borne diseases such as bacterial diarrhoea, pneumonia, acute respiratory infections are prominent illness accounting for the health burden in the country.

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