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Kenya, 16 February 2011: Pneumococcal vaccine formally introduced to the country's routine immunization programme for children

Tabitha lost her child to pneumonia 11 years ago
© UNICEF ESARO/2011/Kun Li
Tabitha Mwikali with her youngest child at home in Kibera. The child has just been immunized against pneumonia.

By Pamela Sittoni and Kun Li

NAIROBI, Kenya, 16 February 2011 - Eleven years ago, Tabitha lost her oldest child to pneumonia – a disease that kills 30,000 young lives in Kenya every year.

“When I took him to the doctors, that’s when I discovered it was pneumonia," recalled Tabitha. "The child was sweating a lot, having shocks, coughing. It was like that his whole body was being pierced by something. He was admitted for one month, when one month was about to end, he died.”

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on Pneumococcal Vaccine Launch in Kenya. Watch in RealPlayer

Today Tabitha's heartbreak will not be repeated again. The vaccine to prevent pneumococcal diseases - once only available in rich countries - is now being officially introduced to the African continent. During a colorful ceremony held in the nation’s capital Nairobi, 100 children received their immunization, marking the formal introduction of pneumococcal vaccine into the country's routine immunization programme.

"I am pleased to announce that the Government is committed to make this programme sustainable," said Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki during the ceremony. "We will provide this life-saving vaccine free of charge, to every child less than one-year old in all public health facilities." Together with mothers, health workers, donors and partners, President Kibaki also witnessed the vaccination of the first six children.

“I am happy to protect my child. I have watched my neighbors lose their babies to pneumonia. I would not want this to happen to me,” said Dorcas Wanjiku, carrying her 10-month-old baby Virginia.

Innovative initiative

President Kibaki of Kenya witnesses a child being immunized against pneumonia
© UNICEF ESARO/2011/Kun Li
President of Kenya Mwai Kibaki (1st left) witnesses a child being immunized to mark the formal introduction of pneumococcal vaccine into Kenya’s routine immunization programme.

Kenya received the pneumococcal vaccines through an innovative partnership with GAVI, the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunizations. GAVI brings together developing countries, donor governments, UNICEF, and other UN agencies to save children's lives by increasing access to immunization in developing countries. As the vaccine is being rolled out in Kenya, it is also being rolled out in countries like Nicaragua, Guyana, Sierra Leone, and Yemen. Honduras, Mali and Democratic Republic of Congo will be introducing in the coming months.

Thanks to donor countries including the United Kingdom, Canada, Russia, Norway and Italy, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, GAVI was able to committ $40 million for 2011 and $35 million for the following years for the purchase of the vaccines for Kenya, while the Government of Kenya pledges $900,000.

Describing the new vaccine as “groundbreaking”, President Kibaki thanked all donors and partners who supported the initiative and appealed to parents with eligible children to present them at the nearest health centres for immunization. He also highlighted the importance of preventing pneumonia through exclusive breastfeeding, washing hands with soap and water and ensuring prompt treatment of children with respiratory illnesses.

In Kibera, one of Kenya’s largest slums, Tabitha and her fellow mothers all received the good news. Their youngest children will soon join others throughout Kenya, from urban slums to rural villages, to be protected from a disease that kills more children than any other causes worldwide.

"By rapidly introducing this vaccine to more than 40 countries over the next five years, GAVI and its partners can avert approximately 700,000 deaths by 2015, and 7 million by 2030," said Interim Chief Executive Officer of the GAVI Alliance, Helen Evans. "But our challenge is to maintain that momentum and to ensure that all countries that want to protect their children against pneumococcal diseases have the vaccines to do so.

"GAVI needs extra $3.7 billion by 2015 in order to save 4 million lives using this vaccine and other vaccines," Ms. Evans said.



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