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Historic pneumococcal vaccine shipment arrives in Rwanda

© UNICEF Video
Vaccines are unloaded at the Kigali International Airport, Rwanda

By Misbah Sheikh and Cyriaque Ngoboka

KIGALI, Rwanda, 27 March 2009 – Last week, a historic shipment of vaccines arrived at the Kigali Airport in Rwanda.  Donated by Wyeth Corporation, these vaccines help protect infants and young children from pneumococcal disease – the leading vaccine-preventable cause of death in children under the age of five worldwide.

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"The arrival of this Prevnar vaccine is a historic occasion for this country," said the UN Resident Coordinator Aurélien Agbénonci. "Rwanda is the first of GAVI-eligible African countries, the other being Gambia, that currently have in place the vaccination coverage and cold chain system to deliver such a vaccine to its children."

This shipment is the first of two deliveries of the vaccine to Rwanda this year. The vaccines will then be available through health centres across the country as part of Rwanda's routine national immunisation programme. The 1,600,000 doses – with a market value of $32 million – will be used in a vaccination campaign starting in late April.

The Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI) recommended that Rwanda be included in the list of countries receiving this vaccine in 2009. Most Rwandan children have already been immunized against several other deadly diseases – including measles and polio – and the new vaccine will ensure that these children are also protected from pneumococcal disease. GAVI also arranged for the transport of the vaccines from the United States to Rwanda.

© UNICEF Video
Rwandan representatives observe the unloading of life-saving vaccines from a chartered cargo plane.

Broad community protection

The donated vaccine will produce – in both children and adults – a better immune response than other currently available vaccines, which will help to ensure that the recipient develops long-term protection against the targeted disease. Furthermore, the new vaccine can stimulate immunity even in non-vaccinated persons that live in close proximity to those who are immunized, which results in broader community protection.

The United States Government, through its Agency for International Development (USAID), has provided over $500 thousand to procure cold chain equipment for the storage of the vaccines, while UNICEF is supporting the Ministry of Health in training health workers around the country to deliver the vaccine, sensitize families about the importance of vaccination with Prevnar and assist with all logistics –  including providing kerosene to fridges to keep the vaccine below eight degrees Celsius.

Pneumococcal disease affects both children and adults, and is a leading cause of illness and death worldwide. The symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia include sudden onset of illness characterized by shaking, chills, fever, shortness of breath or rapid breathing, chest pain that is worsened by breathing deeply and a productive cough.




17 March 2009 -- UNICEF correspondent Kun Li reports on the arrival of vaccines to prevent pneumonia in Rwanda.
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