, NAIROBI, Kenya, Jan 24 – A vaccine that prevents children from contracting pneumonia will be available in all public hospitals beginning next month, the government has said.
Public Health Minister Beth Mugo said on Monday that the pneumococcal vaccine which had been out of reach for most children would now be available for free in all public health facilities beginning mid February.
"We want to give it to all our children like other regular vaccines," she said.
The vaccine has been available in some private hospitals at a cost of about Sh15, 000 for the full dosage.
A child requires three doses of the vaccine and each dose cost Sh5,000 in the private health facilities.
Philanthropist Melinda Gates said the introduction of the vaccine would go a long way towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal on improving child health.
"The vaccine is here, they (government) have actually made sure it is here before the launch so that after the 14th (February), you don\’t start the process of procuring and training," she said.
"The government has made sure that all the steps were taken and that\’s a huge kudos to them," Mrs Gates added.
The vaccine will be made available through the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) which provides all vaccines for Kenya and is partly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation.
In July 2009, the government was embroiled in a huge tussle with an American drugs manufacturer that had allegedly refused to subsidise the cost of the new pneumonia vaccine.
The Public Health Minister had argued that it was unfair for Kenyan children to miss out on the vaccine considering the trials had been done at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) for over 10 years.
"Kenyan children cannot be guinea pigs just to be used to develop the medicine and after that we cannot access it. There are areas that we have to put our foot down because we also have a right to those vaccines," Mrs Mugo had said.
The manufacturers of the vaccine had wanted to give Kenya a one-time dose, a deal the government refused.
"We wanted something sustainable," the Minister said.
According to the World Health Organisation estimates, pneumonia causes more than 20 percent of deaths in children under the age of five years in Kenya.
Pneumonia is an inflammation of one or both lungs and is often due to a bacterial, viral, fungal or parasitic infection. Symptoms may include fever, chills, cough with sputum production, chest pain and shortness of breath.
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