Congo, Democratic Republic of the

GAVI supports a pneumococcal vaccination programme for Congolese children

Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation plans roll out to more countries

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF DR Congo/2011/Walther
Minister of Health Victor Makwenge Kaput (left) stands beside First Lady Olive Lembe Kabila and Marie-Ange Lukiana Mufuankol, Minister of Women, Family and Gender, during the vaccination ceremony in Kinshasa, DR Congo.

By Cornelia Walther

KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of the Congo, 6 April 2011 – Several hundred spectators gathered this week to witness the Democratic Republic of the Congo introduce a new pneumococcal vaccine to combat pneumonia into its national immunisation programme.

Pneumococcal disease is the leading cause of pneumonia, which contributes to the death of nearly one in five children under the age of five in developing countries.

As part of the milestone, the first Congolese child received the pneumococcal vaccine at an official event in front of First Lady Olive Lembe Kabila and Minister of Health Victor Makwenge Kaput.

Official ceremony

Despite stifling heat that reached 40 degrees Celsius in the shade, those at the ceremony filled the air with the sounds of joyful singing and trumpets. Nsadisa Mbala, 25, was one of four mothers who brought their new-borns to be vaccinated.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF DR Congo/2011/Walther
Several hundred spectators gathered to witness the introduction of the new pneumococcal vaccine. Young children were immunised at the ceremony in Kinshasa, DR Congo.

“I am grateful for this additional protection for my daughter. There is already so much we have to worry about until she will be a grown up,” said Ms. Mbala, 25. “It’s wonderful that pneumonia can now be taken off the list.”

Starting with Bas Congo and Kinshasa, the new vaccine will eventually be introduced in all eleven provinces in DR Congo by the end of 2012. First Lady Kabila stressed that health needs must become an increasing priority.

“I recommend that the Congolese government increases the part of the budget that is allocated to health services and takes its share in the purchase of all vaccines,” she said at the ceremony. “We have come far, but we must go further in protecting the future of our children.”

Reducing child mortality

A UNICEF study conducted in 2004 revealed that pneumonia killed at least 132,000 children under the age of five in DR Congo, making it the second biggest cause of mortality, after malaria, for under-fives in the country. Only 42 per cent of children suspected to have pneumonia are taken to an appropriate healthcare provider.

UNICEF Image
© UNICEF DR Congo/2011/Walther
A young child is immunised in Kinshasa, DRC. The new pneumococcal vaccine will eventually be introduced in all eleven provinces in DR Congo by the end of 2012.

“To vaccinate your child means to love your child. To vaccinate your child means to protect your child,” said Minister of Health Victor Makwenge Kaput, as he stood alongside Minister of Women, Family and Gender Marie-Ange Lukiana Mufuankolo at the ceremony.

Dr. Léodégal Bazira, acting World Health Organization (WHO) Representative in DR Congo, added that the introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine and the systematic immunisation of children could save the life of one in five children who currently die from respiratory infectious diseases.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) – which brings together governments, UNICEF, the WHO and other key players in global health – has committed to supporting the introduction of pneumococcal vaccines in 19 developing countries by 2012.

Nicaragua, Guyana, Yemen, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Mali have all also recently introduced the vaccine. If GAVI receives enough from donors, the plan is to roll out the vaccines to more than 40 countries by 2015.

“Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective public health investments a government can make, and we are counting on our donors to continue their strong backing for our life-saving mission,” said Helen Evans, GAVI interim CEO.

Maternal health

In DR Congo, the introduction of the new vaccine was combined with the launch of the United Nations Population Fund-backed ‘African Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality’.

Officials at the event stressed the need for healthy children to have healthy mothers. “To give a child a bright start into life, a package of good nutrition, hygiene, vaccination and health care must be available to the mother and her baby,” said UNICEF Representative in DR Congo Pierrette Vu Thi.

She added: “We have a shared responsibility to provide this live-saving package to all Congolese families.”


 

 

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