Ministry launches new vaccine
Health Minister Dr Molotsi Monyamane on Friday officially launched a vaccine that prevents children from being infected with pneumococcal bacteria which causes severe health problems such as pneumonia, blood infections, and meningitis.
The medication, called Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV13), would be provided to babies below the age of 11 months with the children eligible for vaccination at six, 10 and 14 weeks of age.
In addition to toddlers, PCV13 or Prevnar 13 is recommended to older children and adults with certain health conditions resulting from pneumococcal disease.
Friday’s launch took place at Tšakholo Health Centre in Mafeteng and was organised by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).
According to Dr Monyamane, the vaccine would greatly improve the wellbeing of Basotho as it protects against 13 of the 90 types of pneumococcal bacteria known to cause more infections in infants.
“Children under this age-range are at the greatest risk of serious diseases caused by pneumococcal infection and that’s why they are the target,” Dr Monyamane said.
“For us to launch this vaccine today, we were supported with $100 000 by the Global Alliance on Vaccines and Immunisation to speed-up the process of implementation.”
He continued: “Let me say again that Lesotho, like other developing countries, has made efforts to ensure we decrease chances of infection and the death of children from diseases which can be prevented.”
The minister further reminded parents to “always be careful” when handling their children or preparing meals to avoid the spread of germs.
“I also want to remind you that vaccines are available at health centres around the country. Make sure you go there to seek services for your children,” he said.
Speaking at the same occasion, WHO Representative to Lesotho, Dr Wilfred Nkhoma congratulated the Ministry for responding to the global and regional call to introduce PCV in line with the second goal of the Decade of Vaccines (DoV) 2011-2020.
Dr Nkhoma said the introduction of PCV in Lesotho was an important step towards the country’s “wider efforts” to reduce mortality among children under five years of age.
“In the same vein, Lesotho has already committed to introducing, in the not-too-distant-future, the rotavirus vaccine which prevents diseases and death from common diarrhea viruses,” Dr Nkhoma said.
“Recognising this danger and the urgent need to save the lives of children, WHO, UNICEF and other partners have developed an Integrated Global Action Plan for Pneumonia and Diarrhea (GAPPD) that seeks to, among other outcomes, end childhood-deaths by 2025,” Dr Nkhoma said.
“This vaccine being launched here today will not only provide effective and long-lasting protection against pneumonia but also protect children from life-threatening conditions caused by generalised blood infections.”
Dr Nkhoma further urged the Ministry of Health to strengthen systems to support and ensure universal access to PVC and other vaccines.
“Considering the high under-five mortality rates in the country as shown by the 2014 Demographic Health Survey preliminary report, an improved coverage rate for all antigens is not only desirable but mandatory. We owe it to Basotho children because every single one of them has the right to a healthy life and vaccines are one of the best ways to provide that.”
On his part, Acting UNICEF Representative, Dr Victor Ankrah, said pneumonia was one of the main killers of children in the world, hence his organisation’s welcome of the PCV launch by the ministry.
“Around the world, in Africa and in Lesotho, pneumonia is the second single killer after HIV,” Dr Ankrah said.
“A couple of weeks ago, we visited some daycare centres in Maseru and it was very inspiring to meet the children there. Their laughter and smiles were inspiring. They looked healthy. This is a dream we all share to see children healthy, play, live their lives, grow and become productive adults,” Dr Ankrah said.
“That’s how it should be for everyone but for thousands of children in the world, the reality is sadly different.
“Estimates from WHO and UNICEF suggest that each year, some 6000 children under the age of five years die in Lesotho and about 600 of these deaths are due to pneumonia.”
Dr Ankrah said the introduction of the new vaccine was one of the measures which should change this sad reality.
PCV13 was approved by the United States of America Food and Drug Administration on 24 February 2010.
After waiting for the outcome of a trial underway in the Netherlands, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommended the vaccine for adults over the age of 65 in August 2014.
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