KARACHI, Nov 22 2012 (IPS) – Medical practitioners at the National Institute of Child Health (NICH), a leading government-run children’s hospital in Karachi, hope that this will be the last winter they have to treat a stream of children suffering from pneumonia.
The disease is one of the leading killers of under-five children in the country, accounting for about 19 percent of child mortality.
Last month Pakistan became the first country in South Asia to introduce a free pneumonia vaccine, to immunise five million children against the deadly disease annually.
According to Dr. Mohsina Ibrahim at the NICH, the move will also help lower the incidence of other related diseases like meningitis, but only if “the vaccine is given the same importance as polio and taken door-to-door”, she told IPS.
The government was under considerable pressure to introduce the vaccine: with infant and under-five mortality rates of 78 and 94 per 1,000 children respectively, the country is unlikely to meet the target of reducing under-five mortality by two-thirds by 2015, as stipulated by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Considered to be the largest rollout of the vaccine after Africa and Central America, the new initiative will form part of the state’s routine child immunisation programme, a set of scheduled inoculations provided free of cost from birth to 15 months to protect against diseases like diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), measles, tetanus, meningitis, polio, tuberculosis, and hepatitis B.
The vaccine is being delivered through a partnership between the Pakistan government, the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), which supports and finances vaccines in the world’s poorest countries, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organisation (WHO).
GAVI plans to contribute 680 million dollars, and the government has donated 17 million rupees (175,000 dollars) to provide the vaccine until 2015.
“GAVI provides funds for countries to jump-start the introduction of newer vaccines, which they would otherwise never have the fiscal (capacity) to do,” Dr. Zulfiqar Bhutta, a leading paediatrician heading the women and child health unit at the Karachi-based Aga Khan University, told IPS.
This is done by procuring highly subsidised vaccines in bulk directly from manufacturers. ”After a negotiated period, countries (are expected) to pick up the vaccine tab,” he said.
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