LONDON Oct 9 Pakistan has become the first
country in South Asia to introduce a vaccine against the deadly
pneumococcal disease in children, with GlaxoSmithKline's
Synflorix selected for the programme.
Worldwide more than 1.3 million children under the age of
five are killed each year by pneumonia and in Pakistan it
accounts for almost 20 percent of child deaths, according to the
Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).
The move comes at a time when healthcare experts are still
struggling to get polio vaccination accepted in parts of
Pakistan, one of the few countries where it is still endemic.
The introduction of Synflorix in Pakistan, which began on
Tuesday, is possible thanks to GAVI's advanced market commitment
scheme, which provides incentives for drug companies to produce
large quantities of vaccines for poor countries at low cost.
"In Pakistan, with a successful roll-out we can save tens of
thousands of lives," GAVI's chief executive Seth Berkley told
reporters at a briefing at its Geneva headquarters. "It will
make a dramatic difference in life expectancy in the country."
GSK, Britain's largest drugmaker, said it would provide a
minimum of 480 million doses of Synflorix to GAVI for programmes
against pneumococcal disease in 73 developing countries by 2023.
GAVI also has a similar global deal with Pfizer for
its rival pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar. The agency chooses
between the competing vaccines in each country.
GAVI is a public-private partnership backed by the Bill &
Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organisation, the
World Bank, UNICEF, international donor governments and others.
It funds bulk-buy immunisation campaigns for poorer nations that
can't afford vaccines at rich-world prices.
Berkley noted problems with Pakistan's polio eradication
effort, which has been hampered by mistrust and rejection among
local people, but said he expected the introduction of the
pneumococcal vaccine to be smoother, and potentially helpful to
the polio campaign in the longer run.
"The government of Pakistan assures us they will do
everything they can to roll out this product," he said. "This is
a vaccine that families understand, (along with) the importance
of this disease and children dying, so it actually may help the
Latest United Nations estimates show that pneumonia accounts
for 18 percent of child deaths globally. In Pakistan more than
352,000 children die before they reach their fifth birthday and
almost one in five of those deaths are due to pneumonia.
GAVI said that while pneumococcal vaccines cannot prevent
every case of pneumonia they can prevent a significant
proportion and have the potential to protect tens of thousands
of children from preventable sickness and death.