Uganda introduces pneumococcal vaccine to curb infant and child deaths

Bugabwe (Uganda),  27 April 2013 -- Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni  today formally launched the introduction of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) into the country’s routine immunization schedule to avert infant and child deaths due to pneumococcal disease.

Globally, health problems due to pneumococcal disease claim the lives of more than 1.8 million children under the age of five each year. In Uganda, these killer diseases account for the death of more than 24,000 children every year.  

“Health is wealth and one of the surest ways to be healthy and to stay in good health is by getting vaccinated”, the President said at the launch ceremony, held at a rural primary school in Iganga district, eastern Uganda.

Urging Ugandans to take immunization seriously, the President said: “Immunization is not a joke, it is not playing around”. He also told the people to consider the eventuality of a law being introduced that would make it an offence for parents not to vaccinate their children.

Today’s launch, which marked the first step in the rollout of the pneumococcal vaccine into Uganda’s routine immunization schedule,  aims to vaccinate initially all Ugandan children younger than one year old, and all Ugandan infants thereafter. The vaccine will be available for free at all health facilities.

President Museveni used the occasion to laud the African Vaccination Week initiative, and called on parents, caretakers and guardians to fully utilize the free services offered at health facilities to ensure that all children were fully vaccinated by their first birthday.

The Ugandan leader was joined at the launch by Dr Deo Nshimirimana, representing the WHO Regional Director for Africa, Dr Luis Sambo; the WHO Representative in Uganda, Dr Wondimagegnehu Alemu; UNICEF Deputy Representative in Uganda, Ms May Anyabou; the Chief Executive Officer of GAVI, Dr
Seth Berkley, and high-ranking Ugandan government officials, among others.

In his remarks, read by Dr Alemu, Dr Sambo, commended the Ugandan leader for being a relentless advocate for the health of the Ugandan population in general, and that of women and children in particular.

He also praised Uganda for being the 22nd African country to introduce the PCV but said that there was an urgent need to strengthen the immunization delivery system in the country so that all Ugandan children could derive the full benefits offered by life-saving vaccines.

“ A strong national vaccination programme and effective routine delivery system are the true guarantee of protection of the important investments made so far in immunization in Uganda”,  the Regional Director said.

Referring to the third African Vaccination Week, which was launched in Uganda on Wednesday, Dr Sambo said that the focus of the initiative was to strengthen national immunization programmes by raising awareness of the value and importance of immunization and increasing vaccination coverage and uptake of new and existing vaccines, while at the same time prioritizing service provision for hard-to-reach areas with selected high impact child survival packages based on strong evidence.

In his remarks, the Chief Executive Officer of GAVI, Dr Seth Berkley, said that the new life-saving vaccine just introduced into Uganda’s routine immunization schedule would make a huge difference in a country where 17% of child deaths were caused by pneumonia.

He added that the occasion was also a unique opportunity to revitalize routine immunization services in Uganda and improve on some indicators which show that, currently, 48% of Ugandan children were not fully vaccinated.

Other challenges that needed to be addressed include vaccine storage, cold chain and logistics, Dr Berkley said.

Speaking at the same occasion the UNICEF Deputy Representative for Uganda, Ms May Anyabou, joined Dr Sambo in congratulating Uganda for introducing the pneumococcal vaccine that has the potential of saving more than 65 children from dying from pneumonia per day.

She pledged the support of UNICEF and other partners to Uganda to strengthen child health and nutrition interventions to improve the lives of children.

Today’s event climaxed activities organized in Uganda as part of the African Vaccination Week, the third edition of which was launched on 24 April in Uganda’s eastern district of Kamuli.
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