Every year, more than 1.4 million children die from pneumonia, accounting for more than 18% of deaths in children under-five.
Pneumonia can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi and is a type of acute respiratory infection that affects the lungs and limits oxygen intake in infected children. Streptococcus pneumoniae – or pneumococcal disease – is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia in young children. Beyond pneumonia, the bacterium can also cause meningitis and sepsis, either of which can be fatal or permanently debilitating.
Pneumonia can be spread through infected air-borne droplets produced by a child’s cough or a sneeze. A child might also contract the infection through exposure to infected blood during birth. While a healthy immune system would enable a child to fight off this infection, a child with a weakened immune system resulting from malnutrition (as is prevalent in low- and middle-income countries) may require antibiotics to heal. Immunization remains the most effective way to prevent infection.
Since 2000, the pneumococcal vaccine has been readily available in the US and Europe. It has remained prohibitively expensive for low- and middle-income countries where most of the mortality burden is borne. Additionally, the pneumococcal vaccine administered in developed countries was determined to be ineffective in developing countries where it failed to target the bacterium strains present in developing countries.
Without vaccination or effective treatment – currently only 30% of kids in developing countries who need antibiotics receive them – pneumococcal disease threatens to compromise the economic vitality of many countries. Families are overburdened caring for children disabled by the disease and health systems are overextended trying to care for patients with sepsis, meningitis, and pneumonia.
Aiming to eliminate the 10- to 15-year delay between vaccine availability in high- and low-income countries, GAVI (Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization) was created; the organization is a public-private partnership striving to increase access to immunization in poor countries. Born out of a unique collaboration between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, UN agencies, and leaders of the vaccine industry, as well as bilateral aid organizations, GAVI funds immunization programs in 70 countries. The organization estimates it will help avert at least 650,000 future deaths by 2015 and as many as seven million by 2030.
Pneumococcal vaccines are among those delivered by GAVI funds. Fifteen developing countries are already rolling out these vaccines with GAVI support. Mozambique was among 18 additional countries approved for the program in September 2011. Preparing for a new vaccine introduction is intense work. Infrastructure needs to be developed and/or refined: refrigerated storage space may need to be constructed to support the cold chain space, and transport routes and information systems must be developed, waste management systems need to be established, staff need to be trained, and a supervision system must be in place.
So, lot’s of work ahead! However we’re excited that the VillageReach Dedicated Logistics System might help support the distribution of pneumococcal vaccines next year in Mozambique. We are confident that our work with distribution, supervision, and information management will help to ensure that vaccines get to the health centers, that health workers are trained to administer the new product, and that the right quantities reach the right facilities to balance supply and demand. GAVI recipients have produced impressive rates of immunization and VillageReach is thrilled that our work may help reduce the burden of pneumonia among the under-five population.