| ACCRA, April 26
ACCRA, April 26 Ghana became the first African
country on Thursday to introduce vaccines against pneumococcal
disease and rotavirus at the same time in a bid to fight leading
causes of the world's two biggest childhood killers - pneumonia
More than 2.7 million children worldwide under the age of
five are killed each year by pneumonia and severe diarrhoea, and
in Ghana the diseases account for 20 percent of child deaths.
"Our children have been dying from these vaccine-preventable
diseases for too long, but this moment begins a major fight
back," Health Minister Alban Bagbin told reporters and officials
at a ceremony in Accra to mark the launch of the vaccines.
With these two new shots added to Ghana's established
immunisation programme against polio, measles, tuberculosis and
other key childhood disease, he said he was sure Ghana will meet
a target for a two-thirds reduction in child mortality by 2015.
The introduction of the vaccines in Ghana is being funded
for the most part by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and
Immunisation (GAVI), which funds bulk-buy vaccinations for
poorer countries that cannot afford to pay rich-world prices.
The Alliance brings together developing country and donor
governments, the World Health Organisation (WHO), UNICEF, the
World Bank, the vaccine industry, and the Bill & Melinda Gates
Foundation and other private philanthropists.
The WHO, which has designated this week "world immunisation
week", says vaccination is one of the most cost-effective of all
public health measures. It estimates that between 2 and 3
million deaths are averted each year with immunisation.
A series of studies published last year found that if 90
percent of children in the more than 70 poor countries supported
by GAVI were fully immunised, about 6.4 million children's lives
and more than $151 billion in treatment costs and lost
productivity could be saved over 10 years, producing economic
benefits of $231 billion.
GAVI has secured deals with the manufacturers of the
pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines -- Pfizer, Merck and GSK --
which means they can buy them for poor countries at around a 90
percent discount from prices paid by developed nations.
Ghana is co-funding the vaccines needed for these campaigns,
contributing around 20 U.S. cents for each dose.
Ghana's first lady Ernestina Naadu Mills, who spoke at the
launch ceremony in Accra's Independence Square, said her country
now had a new opportunity "to improve the lot of our children,
who are our greatest resource".
(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Myra MacDonald)