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At a glance: Ghana

Ghana launches vaccines against pneumonia and diarrhoea, the country's biggest child killers

The first-ever World Immunization Week takes place from 21-28 April 2012. UNICEF offices around the world are engaging in immunization campaigns and raising awareness about the importance of vaccines to child survival. UNICEF is the world’s largest buyer of vaccines for the world’s poorest countries, and has been supplying vaccines to children for over 50 years.

By Madeleine Logan

ACCRA, Ghana, 27 April 2012 – Alimatu Mohammed drove for three hours on a rattling minibus to get her son treated for severe diarrhoea at a hospital this week.

VIDEO: UNICEF partner GAVI reports on Ghana's simultaneous launch of vaccinations against pneumonia and diarrhoea, two of the country's biggest killers of children.  Watch in RealPlayer


It’s a journey she hopes never to repeat, thanks to the new rotavirus vaccine against severe infant diarrhoea that was launched in Ghana yesterday.

The launch makes Ghana the first African country to introduce pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines at the same time. These immunizations will simultaneously tackle pneumonia and diarrhoea – two of the biggest killers of Ghanaian children. 

A profound impact on children’s health

It’s a relief for Ms. Mohammed, whose son, Harris Hussif, was so severely dehydrated this past weekend that nurses struggled to find a vein to administer intravenous fluids.

VIDEO: UNICEF reports on Ghana's simultaneous release of two immunizations that will protect children against diarrhoea and pneumonia, two major child killers.  Watch in RealPlayer


“He had diarrhoea for three days, and he became so weak he couldn’t do anything,” she said. “When he came here, the nurses tried to put a drip in his arms and his legs [to rehydrate him]. It was very difficult for them. I was scared and I was praying.”They eventually found a vein, and Harris began to improve. But too often, the story does not end happily. Diarrhoea kills 9 per cent of children in Ghana.

UNICEF has supported the move by the Ghana Health Service and its partner, the GAVI Alliance, to introduce the new vaccines.

“These two vaccines can and will have a profound impact on the present and future generations of this nation’s greatest resource… its children,” UNICEF Representative in Ghana Iyabode Olusanmi told the hundreds of people attending the vaccine’s launch at Independence Square in Accra.

Doing business ‘unusually’

It was unprecedented for Ghana to introduce two vaccines at once. But a ward at Princess Marie Louise Children’s Hospital in Accra shows the importance of the simultaneous introduction. Of the 10 children in the ward, four had diarrhoea and three had pneumonia. Paediatrician Dr. Margaret Neizer said pneumonia was the top cause of death at the hospital last year.

© UNICEF GHANA/2012/Logan
Alimatu Mohammed comforts her son, Harris Hussifis, at a hospital where he is being treated for severe diarrhoea. Diarrhoea kills 9 per cent of children in Ghana.

“Yes, it is challenging to introduce two vaccines at the same time, but the diseases are not waiting for us,” said Dr. K.O. Antwi-Agyei, manager of Ghana’s Expanded Programme on Immunisation. “In the meantime, people are dying. We need to do business unusually.”

Ghana’s Minister of Health M. Alban S. K. Bagbin spoke of the vaccines’ importance to achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). “This moment begins a major fightback,” he said. “With these vaccines, we want to, and we will, achieve MDG 4 – the two thirds reduction of our child mortality – by 2015.”

A massive logistical undertaking

With the launch, the vaccines became available in every clinic and health centre in the country.

It was a huge logistical undertaking and required an increase in refrigerated storage in all 10 regions.

© UNICEF GHANA/2012/Logan
Rahel Larbi holds her daughter, Joyce Dede, at the Dodowa health centre. Ms. Larbi brought Joyce to the centre to receive the newly launched pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines.

“This joint introduction will save time because we’ll be using the same resources and the same people,” National Cold Chain manager Paul Bediako said. “It is much more efficient than introducing one vaccine and then waiting one or two years to introduce the other.”

The mango-growing area of Dodowa was the first place in the country to receive the vaccines, and Joyce Dede was one of the first babies to benefit.

Her mother, Rahel Larbi, heard about the vaccine from an announcement van that drove by her house. The van was part of the social mobilization campaign underway across the country. Health workers, journalists, teachers, religious leaders, community leaders, and village health volunteers are all helping to spread the word.

On Wednesday, the crowded health centre at Dodowa showed the success of that campaign.

“With the hard work and effort that has gone into this double launch, Ghana has established itself as a pioneer in the fight against pneumonia and diarrhoeal disease,” said GAVI CEO Dr. Seth Berkley.



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