13 November 2012

Uganda: Govt Announces Free Pneumonia Vaccination

Photo: Unicef
A young child is immunised with the new Pneumonia vaccine.

The Government will next year start free vaccination against pneumonia, the biggest killer of children below the age of five worldwide.

Health ministry spokesperson Rukia Nakamatte confirmed that the ministry had received funding to roll-out the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine.

The vaccine helps protect children against streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria.

Nakamatte said on Monday that: "The Government will roll out the vaccine in April next year. We have received funding from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) for the exercise."

The vaccination campaign targets at least 1.4 million children by the end of 2013 and 1.5 million in 2014.

The vaccine will be given to children who are 14 weeks, as well as six and 10 years old.

Statistics from the health ministry show that pneumonia kills 39,000 children under the age of five, representing 21% of the infant mortality.

At least 1.8 million children are infected with pneumonia every year, out of which only 47% (846,000) receive treatment.

At least a child under the age of five dies every 25 seconds, according to the United Nations Children's Emergency Fund.

Dr. Elizabeth Kiboneka, a consultant paediatrician at Mulago Hospital, said the pneumonia vaccine would significantly reduce infant mortality, especially among severely malnourished children.

"The rate of deaths among such children is high within the first 72 hours of admission," she stated.

Kiboneka explained that drugs to treat pneumonia were available in many health centres but sick children are often admitted when the infection is in advanced stages.

She noted that pneumonia attacks children whose immunity has been lowered, especially at the age of six months when mothers stop breastfeeding their babies.

Financing arrangements for the pneumonia vaccination exercise show that the Government will contribute $0.20 (about sh507) per dose, per year, translating to about $2m (about sh5b) for 2013 and $1m (about sh2.5b) for 2014.

In 2013, GAVI will contribute $21,235,500 (about sh53b) and $17,971,000 (about sh43b) in 2014, according to Citizen News Service.

It is estimated that at least 11,000 lives of children under five years and sh2.6b in direct medical costs will be saved if the anticipated 92% coverage of the pneumococcal vaccination programme is achieved by the end of 2014.

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