The Republic of the Congo has taken an important step to improve children's health by introducing a new vaccine against pneumonia free of charge, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) announced today.
"Thanks to this new vaccine, Congo can save the lives of numerous young children who die each year because of the pneumococcal infection", said the UNICEF Representative in the country, Marianne Flach, at the vaccine's launch ceremony in Brazzaville.
Each year, pneumonia kills virtually half of all African children under the age of five years, according to UNICEF. In Congo, the disease represents roughly 14 per cent of child mortality, which makes it the second cause of mortality in this age range after malaria.
Congo is the 15th country in sub-Saharan Africa to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine in its Expanded Program on Immunization, which aims to build on the success of the global smallpox eradication programme, and to ensure that all children in all countries benefited from life-saving vaccines.
The pneumococcal vaccine is available in Congo thanks to funds donated by the GAVI Alliance, a public-private partnership that includes UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and civil society, among others.
Since its establishment in 2000, the GAVI Alliance has financed the immunization of more than 325 million children and prevented more than five million premature deaths. Through its Advanced Market Commitment (AMC), the Alliance provides incentives for manufacturers to produce large quantities of pneumococcal vaccine that can then reach developing countries much earlier than they could have previously.
"The introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine will be supported by the implementation of medical sample control sites and the impact evaluation of these new vaccines' introduction," said the WHO Representative in Congo, Youssouf Gamatié.
In a news release, UNICEF stated the introduction of the vaccine represents a "major public health intervention" that will eradicate one of the most fatal childhood diseases with a routine vaccination, adding that the active engagement of the Congolese community in favouring immunization for their children will be essential for improving child health and survival.