Kenya plans to roll out a vaccine against pneumonia this month in all government hospitals to reduce the rate of child deaths by over 70 per cent by the end of the year.
The vaccine is an initiative of the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunisation (Gavi), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri).
“Kenya will be the third African country to introduce the vaccine after South Africa and the Gambia,” Mohammed Shebe a paediatric clinician said.
Children will receive three injections, each at an interval of four weeks.
The Pentavalent vaccine, which will be administered along with the pneumonia one, will be injected in the left thigh.
“We are hopeful that by the year 2015, we will have immunised over 50 million children against pneumococcal disease and reduced deaths,” Dr Shebe said, adding that the health sector will require a minimum of 10 years to cut the number of pneumonia-related deaths by half.
The three pneumonia vaccines are available in private hospitals which charge high prices, locking many children from the accessing the vaccine.
The Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV 10), will be administered as a routine vaccination in children.
Clinical trials revealed that the vaccine was also effective in children with HIV.
The introduction of the vaccine comes at a time when researchers are relaying hopes of a malaria vaccine, which is in its trial stages.
Gavi will fund the vaccination process for four years. Dr Kamau said that it would cost the government Sh2 billion every year in order to sustain the programme in public health facilities.
Although she was optimistic that the programme will be successful in curbing child mortality, Dr Kamau said there was need for parents to observe hygiene and keep to a well balanced diet to help fight the disease.
“Kemri is going to conduct a study to measure the impact of the vaccine on pneumococcal disease in several parts of the country,” said Dr Tahreni Bwanaali, the project manager for the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine Impact Study in Kilifi.
After launch of the vaccination in all health facilities countrywide in January, Kemri and Wellcome Trust will conduct campaigns in April in Kilifi and Bondo counties to predict the likely effect of the national vaccine programme in five years.
“The catch up campaign will enable the Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation to react quickly to enhance indirect benefits and to control risks.
“The campaign will also help other countries which are behind Kenya in their preparations for the introduction of the vaccine to optimise their implementation schedule,” said Dr Tahreni.
The vaccine is an improved version of the previous PCV 7 (meaning it has the ability to prevent the attack of seven strains of pneumonia causing bacteria) which was rolled out in the year 2000.