Guest blog post from the GAVI Alliance
Today marks a milestone for Ghana, with the West African nation making an unprecedented step towards saving the lives of its children from two of the biggest child killers in the country, through the simultaneous introduction of two new vaccines.
Pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines will protect the children of Ghana – as they protect most children in wealthy countries and a growing number in developing countries – from the leading causes of pneumonia and diarrhoea.
Many of us are lucky enough not to give these diseases much more than a second thought, much less realise that they are the two biggest killers of children under five. Many more of us do not know that the leading causes of both these diseases are preventable with vaccines.
Yet word is spreading about these two devastating diseases, and thanks to generous donors around the world, the GAVI Alliance is making pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines available to children in the developing world.
Globally, pneumococcal disease is responsible for approximately half a million deaths among children under five every year. As well as being the leading cause of pneumonia, it also causes meningitis, which leaves many of the children it does not kill with permanent disabilities, including mental retardation and seizures. Pneumococcal disease can also lead to blood poisoning, as well as middle ear infections, which can cause permanent deafness.
The severe diarrhoea caused by rotavirus can quickly dehydrate a small child. In developing countries, where access to healthcare is often limited, the rotavirus death toll is also high despite being easily treatable. Approximately 85 % of the half a million deaths caused by rotavirus are in the developing world.
For many countries, getting pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines to their children will make the critical difference in attaining Millennium Development Goal 4 – to reduce the deaths of children under five by two-thirds by 2015.
Since 2010, GAVI has already helped introduce pneumococcal vaccines in 16 developing countries and rotavirus vaccines in five countries. By 2015, GAVI plans to fund the introduction of the vaccines in a further 21 and 15 countries respectively reaching more than 50 million additional children.
As a result, millions of children’s lives will be saved. Countless more children will be spared the terrible suffering pneumococcal disease and rotavirus can cause, even when they don’t kill. Children will have a better chance of growing up healthier and getting a better education. Parents will be saved the agony of a sick or dying child and families will be spared the economic devastation that goes along with caring for a sick child. After all, a parent will spend any amount of money to prevent their child from suffering.
In Ghana, pneumonia and diarrhoea each cause approximately 10 % of under five deaths and the vaccines will make a big difference in helping the country to reach MDG 4. Although two vaccines have never before been introduced simultaneously in a GAVI-eligible country, Ghana’s health authorities decided they just couldn’t wait to introduce these two life-saving vaccines one at a time. The joint introduction required confidence in their health system and health workers and it is a huge investment in terms of preparation. But protecting their children from two savage killers in one step is an investment they are happy to make.
Photo credit: GAVI/Olivier Asselin/2012