With 17 percent of all under-five deaths in Nigeria traceable to pneumonia, health experts have tasked the Federal Government to ensure pneumonia is given a policy priority by ensuring pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) is included in the routine National Programme on Immunisation (NPI).
Currently, pneumonia remains the second major killer of children after malaria in the country with about 150,000 Nigerians, particularly children killed annually by the disease, a situation experts believe, the non-inclusion of PCV vaccine in the nation’s routine immunisation schedule portends huge danger as Nigeria bears the highest burden of pneumonia in Africa.
Speaking with BusinessDay, Osahon Enabulele, president, Nigerian Medical Association, (NMA) said that pneumococcal disease imposes a significant economic burden on families and communities, leading to an increase in the cycle of poverty despite availability of existing pneumococcal vaccination that will reduce overall medical costs.
Enabulele fingered poor environmental hygiene, poor nutrition worsened by dwindling economic fortunes of families and communities, poor ventilation worsened by over-crowding and unwholesome building construction practices and ignorance as reasons that predispose Nigerians, especially children to the deadly disease.
“While NMA appreciates the Federal Government for the introduction of Pentavalent vaccine (which includes the Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) antigen) into the routine immunisation schedule of infants, we appeal for the introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine into the nation’s immunisation schedule, as primary prevention of the disease through vaccination against the two main bacterial aetiologic agents has been proven highly effective globally.
“Prevention of pneumococcal diseases through vaccination will result in significant cost savings while also improving patient care and indirectly reducing overall mortality. The benefits of extensive vaccination in the nation’s immunisation plan extend beyond an immediate public health impact. The prospect of realising these positive outcomes through widespread vaccination should provide enough incentive for the government to issue a call to action,” Enabulele added.
Explaining the Ghana experience, Frank Nyonator, director-general, Ghana health service, urged Nigeria to follow suit by making it one of the national immunisation every child should take.
He however stressed that immunisation was possible through the support of Global Alliance Vaccine Initiative (GAVI) which assist poor nations in accessing vaccines in the global countries through a co-financing platform with GAVI contributing about 90 to 95 percent of the vaccines operational cost.
“Before they assist any country with vaccination, there would have been an agreement that the government will take over, otherwise it would not be possible. Ghana began a national immunisation schedule on pneumonia in April 2012 with the introduction of PCV 13 aimed to reduce infant mortality,” Nyonator said.
The PC Vaccine was administered along with diarrhoea vaccine to reduce and further prevent the two leading causes of death in Ghana.
Nigeria lies within the Pneumococcal Meningitis belt of Africa where infant mortality has remained high, yet this disease has attracted little attention over the past decade, limited funding and reportage when compared to disease like malaria, Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, (AIDS), etc.
While the predominance of pneumococcal pneumonia as a proportion of overall pneumonia is evident regionally in Africa, the Global Action Plan for Prevention and Control of Pneumonia (GAPP), developed by the World Health Organisation and UNICEF in May 2010 seeks to prevent children from contracting pneumonia through increasing awareness on pneumonia and controlling this disease through protection, prevention and treatment.
By: Alexander Chiejina