09 October 2012

Pneumonia Vaccine Campaign in Pakistan Announced

I originally wrote this post for the PSI Impact Blog.

Pakistan becomes the first country in South Asia to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine following today's announcement by Mir Hazar Khan Bijrani, Minister, Inter Provincial Committee (IPC). The government of Pakistan will partner with the GAVI Alliance, UNICEF, the WHO and civil society to tackle a problem that kills an estimated 1.4 million children under the age of five around the world each year. Of that number, roughly 80,000 Pakistani children die from pneumonia each year.

"Today’s historic introduction of pneumococcal vaccine underlines our commitment to the children of Pakistan," said Helen Evans, deputy CEO of the GAVI Alliance. "Through our partners on the ground and working with the Government of Pakistan we aim to reach millions of children with this lifesaving pneumococcal vaccine."

Pneumonia can be prevented by ensuring that children are adequately nourished, indoor pollution is reduced, hygiene is encouraged and vaccines are accessible. The introduction of the pnumococcal vaccine to Pakistan represents a step towards arming families with the ability to protect their children against catching and dying from pneumonia.

The collaboration with the government is important in light of the failure of a recent polio vaccination campaign. Efforts to introduce polio vaccines to children in Pakistan's tribal areas were curtailed leaving some 250,000 children without the vaccine. "Through our research and our work to accelerate access to innovative vaccines, GSK continues to play an important role in helping protect millions of children from infectious disease. Increased vaccination means more children will be able to live healthy lives,” said Christophe Weber, President and General Manager, GSK Vaccines.

GlaxoSmithKline's Synflorix vaccine will protect an estimated 4.8 million children against pneumonia. It is a part of a large agreement between GSK and GAVI that will see the pharmaceutical company provide 480 million doses of Synflorix to 73 developing countries by 2023. If all goes as planned, the partnership will protect an as many as 160 million children against pneumonia.

The new campaign benefits from the GAVI Advance Market Commitment (AMC) that helps to significantly drive down prices. Vaccines through the AMC are introduced as much as a decade ahead of when they would have otherwise made it to a country, says GAVI. "I am pleased that GAVI’s strong financial commitment is being matched by the will of the Pakistan Government to tackle a disease that needlessly claims the lives of tens of thousands of Pakistani children every year," added Evans.

Proper prevention and treatment of pneumnoia could prevent one million child deaths a year, estimates the UN. A large part of the gains can be made by improving treatment, but prevention still accounts for 400,000 of the avoidable deaths. "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."