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Kenya to curb pneumonia deaths

NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 14 – Two years ago, Joseph, now a seven year old boy started experiencing high body temperature, excessive sweating, pain in the limbs and persistent coughing.

His mother thought it was a minor ailment and gave him some medication but his condition did not improve.

"He got sick late in the evening and he cried all night. I thought it was malaria but even after giving him medication it did not work," the mother of two explains.

By the following morning his body temperature was extremely high and fearing he would die, she rushed him to hospital. With his temperature having risen to 40°C he was immediately admitted.

"I was told he was suffering from pneumonia," she remembers.

She says he received three daily injections for three days after which he was discharged but not without more prescriptions.

Luckily for Joseph, his life was saved. But this is not so to many other children who suffer from pneumonia in Kenya.

Government statistics indicate that at least 30,000 children die annually from pneumonia in the country, making it the second largest killer disease in children, after malaria.

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This is why the government has launched a mandatory pneumonia vaccination for children under one year to prevent them from contracting the disease.

"This vaccine has come at the most opportune time," said President Mwai Kibaki, as he officiated the nationwide launch of the vaccine on Monday.

The government negotiated with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) for a Sh3.2 billion annual grant for the supply of this new vaccine over a period of five years.

The Kenyan government will also be contributing Sh72 million annually in incremental amounts towards this cost.

"We have put in a number of interventions geared towards achieving Millennium Development Goals and the focus is on the top five killer diseases which are malaria, pneumonia, diarrhoea, malnutrition and anaemia," the Head of State said.

The pneumococcal vaccine (PCV10) will now be part of routine immunisation and will be given to children at six, 10 and 14 weeks of age.

Public Health Minister Beth Mugo said the government was working to mobilise caretakers and communities to ensure that all children complete the required vaccines.

"We have also been able to expand the regional capacity for storage of vaccines by establishing three new depots in Garissa, Kakamega and Meru bringing to eight the total number of regional depots countrywide. These depots have allowed easier access to vaccines by neighbouring districts," Mrs Mugo said.

Kenya is the first African country to have the vaccine.

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The vaccine which is injectable will be given at the same time as pentavalent vaccine, a multi dose of five vaccines that immunise against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, HIB and Hepatitis B.

GAVI Chief Executive Officer Helen Evans said they chose on Kenya to be the first African country to benefit from the vaccine because it has a good track record of introducing vaccines rapidly.

"They have very strong commitment to immunisation and they had put in the application so when the money and supplies were available, Kenya seemed a very good place to start," she said.

Ms Evans said that GAVI aimed to reach 40 countries globally to benefit from the vaccine by 2015.

And for Joseph\’s mother who had brought her other baby who is four months old for the all important vaccination: "It will help a lot because many children suffer from pneumonia and die and as a parent if you don\’t know the signs, you will think it is malaria, you take time before you take the child to hospital and this can lead to death," she says.

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