The human tragedy and the hope behind Ghana’s historic decision

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A visit to the wards of Princess Marie Louise Children’s hospital in Accra quickly answers the question why Ghana’s health ministry took the extraordinary decision to introduce pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines simultaneously.  

24 April 2012

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Priscilla Bonia comforts her 18-month-old son Desmond Ohene Akonor, admitted to Accra’s children’s hospital with broncho-pneumonia. The 74-bed hospital loses one child per day to pneumonia.

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Isiah Anane, just nine-months-old, breathes oxygen to help her laboured breathing.   Pneumonia with diarrhoea is the leading cause of child death both in Ghana and across the world.


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Emma Agbesi’s second son – a “beautiful, fat, fair baby” as she describes him – died two years ago after failing to fight off the pneumonia that took over his lungs. “He had a fever and he couldn’t breathe properly,” she recalls.

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With Isacc’s temperature rising and his lungs struggling, staff at the local health clinic told Emma to take him to the hospital. Doctors did their best but it was too late. “When he died it was so painful. He was beautiful boy,” says Emma.

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Hassana Ousmane can only wait as her 21-month-old daughter Zeinab battles against the twin perils of malaria and diarrhoea. 75% of deaths in the hospital’s emergency room in March were from diarrhoeal diseases and respiratory infections like pneumonia.

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By introducing pneumococcal (left) and rotavirus (right) vaccines, Ghana will protect its under-5’s against the main causes of pneumonia and diarrhoea respectively.  These illnesses accounted for 20% of the 54,000 children who died before their 5th birthday in 2008.

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 From 26 April, pneumococcal and rotavirus will become routine vaccines on Ghanian childrens’ immunisation cards. The International Vaccine Access Center estimates this will prevent over 14,000 child deaths and 1.4m cases of meningitis, pneumonia and diarrhoea.

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 The value of the vaccines stretches beyond health benefits. It will also reduce the burden of disease on Ghana’s long-term development.  Healthier children go to school regularly and are more likely to be economically productive.

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