7 December 2012

Tanzania: New Vaccines to Save Children's Lives

Photo: Kristin Palitza/IPS
An eight-month-old boy with pneumonia is examined by a doctor at Amana Hospital in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

ANOTHER page in history has been written with the introduction of two new vaccines that are designed to save the lives of children.

The vaccines, rotavirus and pneumococcal, will protect under five year olds against pneumonia and diarrhoea. The First Lady, Mama Salma Kikwete, said during the launching of the vaccines at Buguruni Health Centre yesterday that provision of the vaccines was not an option but a right.

Immunization against pneumonia and diarrhea will start in January, next year. "The different researches conducted indicate that vaccines are the way forward in the fight against diseases that kill children especially those below the age of five," she said.

Mama Kikwete said that vaccines were also cost effective and they help save thousands of shillings that families would have had to part with in treating ailing children. She said that the introduction of the vaccines had brought high hopes to the country especially when you take into consideration diarrhoea which accounts for about 18 per cent of child deaths in the country.

"The introduction of these vaccines will reduce the number of child deaths related to these diseases. The move will also enable us to attain the Millennium Development Goal 4 which demands reduction of child mortality by two-thirds, by 2015," she said.

Mama Kikwete said that the country had already made big strides in reducing child mortality. Between 1999 and 2010 the deaths of under five-year olds had been reduced by 49 per cent and 45 per cent for those aged below one year. Statistics show that the country still has a stiff challenge whittling down the number of child deaths much further. Approximately 122,000 children below five years of age die annually.

This is equivalent to 334 child deaths daily. The Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner, Mr Said Meki Sadiki, was optimistic that the new vaccine would help reduce young patients in hospital wards. "We will soon have fewer young patients in children's wards.

The wards that have been sheltering children suffering from diarrhoea or pneumonia will no longer have many patients in them as the current trend stands," he said. Mr Sadiki said that the arrival of the vaccines also means that there will be a reduction on government spending on diarrhoea and pneumonia and will concentrate on other ailments.

"We will also have more vacant beds in our wards," he said with optimism. "As we launch this programme today let me call upon everyone to ensure that they take their children to immunization centres. The vaccines are no longer an option but a right for all Tanzanian children as they are dispensed free of charge," he said.

He asked members of the public to disregard misleading allegations from people who would seek to discourage the people from accepting the new vaccines. "Their opinions would amount to killing the next generation," he said. The Minister for Health and Social Welfare, Dr Hussein Mwinyi, thanked the GAVI Alliance for its support to the nation.

"The nation now can provide its children with the same vaccines as those given in the Western World," he said. Dr Mwinyi said that todate Tanzania had received approximately 110 million US Dollars and that 87 per cent of the support had gone into vaccines.

The remaining 13 per cent has gone into strengthening immunization initiatives, he said. Since it was set up in the year 2000, the GAVI Alliance has helped countries to protect an additional 370 million children from potentially fatal diseases and has prevented more than 5.5 million future deaths.

"In the past three years, the GAVI Alliance has introduced new vaccines to protect children against pneumonia and diarrhoea. We are extremely proud of our achievements," said GAVI Board Chair, Mr Dagfinn Hobraten. The GAVI Alliance Partners' Forum brings together more than 650 members and supporters of the alliance, including global health leaders, government ministers and civil society organisations.

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