From left to right: Minister of Health, First Lady, Minister of Women, Family and Gender during the opening ceremony. Source: Cornelia Walther/UNICEF/2011.
Kinshasa, 4 April 2011 - In an effort to drastically improve the chances of children reaching their fifth birthday, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) today stepped up its immunization programme by including vaccines to combat pneumonia. Initially the expanded programme will be in two of the 11 provinces. Pneumonia is one of the biggest killers of children worldwide and is responsible for a quarter of all child deaths under five in DRC.
DRC First Lady Olive Lembe Kabila and Minister of Health Victor Makwenge Kaput joined parents and health workers in Kinshasa to witness the first child being immunized as part of the official introduction of pneumococcal vaccine into the national routine immunization programme.
On the same day in Paris, GAVI founding partner Bill Gates launched a European-wide awareness campaign to highlight the extraordinary life-saving opportunity that vaccines represent for donor countries.
Globally, pneumococcal disease, the most common and serious form of respiratory infections, kills over a million of people every year - including more than half a million children before their fifth birthday. It is the leading cause of pneumonia, which is the major cause of death among children aged below 5 years, contributing to 18 percent of under five deaths in developing countries.
"Today's launch is an enormous moment for my country, where too many children die of this terrible disease," said Mr Kaput. "Pneumonia causes suffering and death. Therefore we celebrate a wonderful day today. The global introduction of pneumococcal vaccination is a milestone in global health and will help us reduce child mortality."
"The introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine and the systematic immunization of the children could save the life of 1 in 5 children dying from respiratory infectious diseases", said Dr Léodégal Bazira, acting WHO Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
With the second highest child mortality rates in world DRC faces major health challenges. A study conducted in 2004 by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) revealed that pneumonia killed at least 132,000 children under five in the country, making it the second biggest cause of death amongst under five children in the country after malaria. Only 42% of children suspected to have pneumonia are taken to an appropriate healthcare provider.
"With electricity, roads, and refrigerators in short supply, delivering vaccines to remote health centers in DRC is an enormous challenge," said Pierrette Vu Thi, UNICEF Representative in DR Congo. "Together with its partners UNICEF is committed to ensure that all children in this country have the same access to this life-saving vaccine".
As the world's largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF has been supporting vaccination efforts in DRC with supply, technical and financial support since 1963.
In the past five months, Nicaragua, Guyana, Yemen, Kenya, Sierra Leone, and Mali introduced the pneumococcal vaccines thanks to the support from the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) which brings together governments, UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and other key players in global health.
GAVI has committed to support the introduction of pneumococcal vaccines in 19 developing countries by 2012 and, if it gets sufficient funding from its donors, plans to roll them out to more than 40 countries by 2015.
"Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective public health investments a government can make and we are counting on our donors to continue their strong backing for our life-saving mission," said Helen Evans, GAVI interim CEO.
GAVI needs an additional US$ 3.7 billion over the next five years to continue its support for immunization in the world's poorest countries and introduce new and underused vaccines including the pneumococcal vaccine and the rotavirus vaccine which tackles diarrhoea - the second biggest killer of children under five.
The roll-out of the pneumococcal vaccines in countries such as DRC has been made possible through an innovative finance mechanism pioneered by GAVI called the Advance Market Commitment (AMC).
With US$ 1.5 billion from Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Russian Federation, Norway, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a commitment of US$ 1.3 billion from GAVI, the AMC allowed the acceleration of production capacity by the two manufacturers who currently produce the vaccines. This has contributed to ensuring that this new generation of pneumococcal vaccines are affordable in developing countries, as they are now available at a fraction of the price chaired in developed countries.
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UNICEF is on the ground in over 150 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world's largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments. For more information about UNICEF and its work visit: www.unicef.org
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