Accra, 26 April 2012 – Ghana today made history as the first African country to simultaneously introduce pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines in its national immunization programme in a bid to fight pneumonia and diarrheoal diseases, each of which accounts for approximately 10 per cent of under-five deaths in the country.
Ghanaian First Lady, H. E. Dr Ernestina Naadu Mills, said at a ceremony in Accra marking the introduction of the two life-saving vaccines: "I am happy to announce that vaccines against pneumonia will from today be available at all health centres and hospitals. Children will be given three doses of the vaccine at 6, 10 and 14 weeks of age. Also, rotavirus vaccines will be administered to children aged 6 and 10 weeks."
The First Lady was joined at the launch by WHO Deputy Director-General, Dr Anarfi Asamoah-Baah; the Coordinator of the WHO Inter-Country Support Team for West Africa, Dr. O. Walker, representing the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo; the Chief Executive Officer of the GAVI Alliance, Dr Seth Berkley; Ghana's Health Minister Mr. Alban Bagbin; WHO Country Representative in Ghana Dr Idrissa Sow and UNICEF Country Representative in Ghana Dr Iyabode Olusanmi, among other international guests.
In his remarks, WHO Deputy Director-General, Dr Asamoah-Baah, praised Ghana's "bold" decision to introduce the two vaccines at the same time and spoke of the phenomenal progress Ghana had made over the years in immunization coverage – from a national coverage of 4% with just one antigen in 1985 to a national coverage of 90% with nine antigens in 2012.
He attributed this progress to the commitment of the government of Ghana; the leadership and vision of the country's health ministry; the dedication of its country's health workers, particularly nurses, and the facilitative role of partners and the country's women and mothers.
On his part, the Chief Executive Officer of GAVI, Dr Berkley said: "Ghana has taken the lead...it has taken a bold and courageous decision and today's simultaneous launch marks yet another ambitious and encouraging step to make life-saving vaccines rapidly and efficiently available to children who need them wherever thy may be born. The world is watching as Ghana has set an example for everyone else''.
Launch of the second African Vaccination Week
The occasion of the introduction of the vaccines also served as the platform for the official launch of the second African Vaccination Week which is being observed from 23 to 28 April 2012 under the theme "An unimmunized child is one too many. Give polio the final push."
Launching the Week, Dr Walker, representing WHO Regional Director for Africa, said "As one of the most efficient, cost-effective public health interventions, vaccinations are critical to the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals. Further improvements in coverage, expansion of resource pools and large-scale introduction of new vaccines targeting an increasing number of infectious diseases are needed to sustain the gains."
He drew attention to the focus of the observance of the second African Vaccination Week: interrupting wild polio transmission, through strengthening national immunization programmes and increasing vaccination coverage as well as accelerating the uptake of new and existing vaccines. He also pointed out that emphasis should be put on prioritizing service provision for hard-to-reach areas with selected high impact child survival packages.
He added that the second African Vaccination Week was a unique opportunity to raise awareness on the value and importance of vaccination; mobilize human, financial, material and other resources, and implement a variety of activities aimed at improving child survival and primary health care interventions in the region.
The first ever World Immunization Week, being celebrated from to 21 to 28 April 2012, unites countries across the globe for a week of vaccination campaigns, public education and information sharing.
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