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Launch of pneumococcal vaccine initiative aims to protect thousands in Kenya

By Pamela Sittoni

NAIROBI, Kenya, 16 February 2011 - The pneumococcal vaccine was launched this week by Kenya’s President Mwai Kibaki at a colourful ceremony in the nation’s capital of Nairobi. The free vaccine will be administered to all children under twelve months of age; protecting thousands of children across the country.

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


In his message contained in the press release, UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake stated:

”By combining the power of immunization with other measures like better nutrition and sanitation, we can change – and save – millions of children’s lives.”

Enthusiastic cheers erupted from the crowd as the President witnessed the vaccination of the first six children. About 100 children, accompanied by their parents, received their first dose of the vaccine during the occasion.

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

© UNICEF/Kenya/2011/Kun Li
Tabitha Mwikali with her youngest child at home in Kibera. The child is one-year-old and has just been immunized against pneumonia.

Innovative initiative

Kenya received the pneumococcal vaccines through a partnership with GAVI under an innovative financing mechanism known as the Advance Market Commitment.  It is designed to bring heavily discounted vaccines to children living in the world’s poorest countries. The initiative is backed by five donor countries – the United Kingdom, Canada, Russia, Norway and Italy – and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Under this arrangement, GAVI has committed approximately USD 40 million for 2011 and USD 35 million for the following years. The Government of Kenya will give $900,000 every year.

Pneumonia is one of the leading killers of children in Kenya, claiming about 30,000 lives every year. This is a large proportion of the 124,000 under-five child deaths in a year.

© UNICEF/Kenya/2011/Kun Li
The global roll-out banner displayed at the Pneumococcal Vaccine Launch in Kenya.

Groundbreaking vaccine

Describing the new vaccine as “groundbreaking”, the President thanked all donors and partners who supported the initiative and appealed to all parents with eligible children to present them at the nearest health centres or hospitals for immunization. He also encouraged them to prevent pneumonia through exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life, washing hands with soap and clean water and ensuring prompt treatment of children with respiratory illnesses.

He added that the country put in place a number of interventions that would bring it closer to achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goal on child survival. These include: Routine immunization, establishment of model health centres in every constituency and employment of twenty health workers for every constituency.

“We are working towards universal coverage of immunization in all parts of the country,” he said.

Targeting the vulnerable

The Gavi interim chief executive officer, Helen Evans, said the new vaccine represented the very latest in technology and commended Kenya for taking the lead in its roll-out.

UNICEF is working closely with partners to ensure that all children were reached. Elke Wisch, UNICEF Deputy Regional Director of ESARO said, ”With the new and effective vaccine which is now available, we have a responsibility to work even harder to identify and reach the most vulnerable and hard to reach children.”



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