GAVI support kicks-off a healthy start into life for Congolese children

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Cornelia Walther, UNICEF, reports from the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) during the introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine into their national immunisation programme

DRC pneumo rollout ceremony

From left to right: Minister of Health, First Lady, Minister of Women, Family and Gender during the opening ceremony. Source: Cornelia Walther/UNICEF/2011.

ZAI, Kinshasa, 4 April2011- The air is full to burst with joyful singing and trumpets. Despite 40 degrees in the shadow several hundred spectators have come to witness the country's step towards a better future for its children. On 4 April the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) joined the set of six countries that use the new vaccine against pneumococcus to protect their children.

In the presence of DRC First Lady Olive Lembe Kabila and Minister of Health Victor Makwenge Kaput the first Congolese child was immunized as part of the official introduction of pneumococcal vaccine into the national routine immunization programme.

"I am grateful for this additional protection of my daughter. There is already so much we have to worry about until she will be a grown-up. It's wonderful that pneumonia can now be taken from the list!" smiles Nsadisa Mbala, 25 years old. She is one of four mothers who have brought their newborn to be vaccinated today. Starting with Bas Congo and Kinshasa, the new vaccine is eventually being introduced in all eleven provinces by the end of 2012.

DRC pneumococcal rollout, mother and child

Symbolic immunisation of children under 12 months old, with the presence of the First Lady Olive Lembe Kabila.
Source: Cornelia Walther/UNICEF/2011.

Important health services

"This is a special day for our country and I would like to benefit from this opportunity to stress two points that are of major importance today," underlined First Lady Olive Lembe Kabila during the ceremony. "I recommend that the Congolese Government increases the part of the budget that is allocated to health services and takes its share in the purchase of all vaccines. We have come far, but we must go further in protecting the future of our children,"
a statement that was welcomed with thundering applause by the audience.

Pneumococcal disease is the leading cause of pneumonia, which contributes to the death of nearly one in five children under five in developing countries. A UNICEF study conducted in 2004 revealed that pneumonia killed at least 132,000 children under five in DRC, making it the second biggest cause of under-five mortality in the country after malaria. Only 42 percent of children suspected to have pneumonia are taken to an appropriate healthcare provider.

"To vaccinate your child means to love your child. To vaccinate your child means to protect your child," stressed the Minister of Health, Victor Makwenge Kaput, side by side with Marie-Ange Lukiana Mufuankolo, Minister of Women, Family and Gender.

DRC pneumococcal rollout, mother and child

Happy mother & child after the vaccination.
Credit: Cornelia Walther/UNICEF/2011.

One-in-five children

"The introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine and the systematic immunization of the children could save the life of one in five children dying from respiratory infectious diseases," said Dr. Léodégal Bazira, acting WHO Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

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 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.

Maternal health

In DRC the introduction of the new vaccine was combined with another, equally important topic - maternal health. On 4 April DRC launched the 'African Campaign for Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality', an initiative of the UN Population Funds (UNFPA).

"Healthy children need healthy mothers. To give a child a bright start into life, a package of good nutrition, hygiene, vaccination and health care must be available to the mother and her baby. We have a shared responsibility to provide this live-saving package to all Congolese families," said Pierrette Vu Thi, UNICEF Representative in DR Congo. "To vaccinate a child is an act of love."  

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