Pneumococcal vaccine launched in Zimbabwe
By Elizabeth B. Mupfumira
HARARE, Zimbabwe, 31 July 2012 – At Kuwadzana Polyclinic, in a surburb of Harare, 3-month-old Joe Mahachi was the first child to receive the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV 13), which protects children against pneumonia, the world’s leading killer of children under age 5.
The vaccine will also protect children from meningitis, sepsis, and in some cases, deafness.
“This clinic is one of the busiest in Harare, and on most days we immunize up to 300 babies,” said the clinic’s sister-in-charge Esther Makunike. “Today we have taken the opportunity to educate all the mothers in attendance about this new vaccine. The response has been very positive.”
“I had brought him in for his usual vaccines,” said Sharon Mahachi, Joe’s mother. “But when I heard that the new vaccine was now being administered, I was very keen to have him vaccinated. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”
Partners combat child mortality
On 26 July, the Government of Zimbabwe – through its partnership with the GAVI Alliance and with support from UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) – intensified its fight against child mortality and morbidity by introducing PCV 13 in clinics around Zimbabwe.
According to the 2010-11 Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey, the country’s under-5 mortality rate is 84 deaths per 1,000 live births. Most of these children die of preventable diseases.
“It is no longer acceptable for any child to die from a preventable disease,” said UNICEF Representative Dr. Peter Salama. “The introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine in Zimbabwe is another sign that Zimbabwe’s health sector is well on the road to recovery.”
As part of its on-going efforts to provide life-saving vaccines to all children under 5, the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare recently launched a countrywide immunization campaign that saw 1.9 million children under 5 being immunized against polio and measles and receiving vitamin A supplementation. The Government of Japan was the major donor partner for this successful campaign, which saw coverage rates close to 100 per cent.
“The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine will help to address the problem of pneumonia in children and contribute towards the reduction of mortality due to pneumonia and consequently pave the way to the achievement of MDG 4,” said WHO Representative Custodia Mandlhate, referring to Millennium Development Goal 4, which calls for the world to reduce child mortality by two thirds.
Getting the vaccine to children
Since 2000, GAVI has worked to improve children’s access to vaccines. Zimbabwe is the 18th GAVI-eligible country to roll out pneumococcal vaccines in the developing world since 2010. The introduction of these vaccines is largely possible thanks to the Advance Market Commitment (AMC) for pneumococcal vaccines, an innovative financing mechanism that, in 2009, raised US$1.5 billion through donations from the governments of Canada, Italy, Norway, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is hoped that up to 90 million children will benefit from this programme between 2011 and 2015.
“No child should have to die of a disease that we can prevent with vaccines. Zimbabwe’s roll-out of the pneumococcal vaccine marks yet another ambitious and encouraging step to make this life-saving vaccine available to all children, wherever they are born,” said GAVI Alliance Chief Executive Officer Seth Berkley.
UNICEF and WHO helped ensured the regular supply of quality vaccines and supported both logistics and the cold chain system, the system of temperature-controlled transportation required to keep vaccines potent. These organizations also improved planning and supervision of immunization activities, and supported the training of health workers.
USAID, through its Maternal Child Health Integrated Program (MCHIP) in Zimbabwe, provided technical assistance in the Ministry’s revision of the national immunization guidelines and protocols, in preparation for the introduction of PCV 13.
A broadly successful campaign
These efforts have proven broadly successful.
Across Harare’s high-density suburbs – Mbare, Kambuzuma and Dzivarasekwa – mothers queued patiently with their children, waiting for the vaccine.
“The United States Government applauds the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare’s work to introduce pneumococcal conjugate vaccine nationwide and its launch in Zimbabwe today,” said Dr. Jo Keatinge, USAID Health Development Specialist for Maternal, Newborn and Child Health in Zimbabwe.
“Zimbabwean mothers take the health of their children very seriously,” said Mary Kamupota, manager of the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare’s Expanded Programme on Immunization (EPI). “The large turnout at all the clinics and the willingness of mothers to immunize their babies will ensure a better future for all Zimbabweans.”