Fighting pneumonia in Bangladesh

To mark World Pneumonia Day today we are presenting the first of three special reports from Dhaka, where UK Parliamentarian Jim Dobbin MP highlights his experiences visiting Dhaka’s main healthcare centres.

I am currently in Dhaka, Bangladesh, with a senior delegation of UK parliamentarians looking at the work of the GAVI Alliance and the impact that vaccines are having in the developing world. The GAVI Alliance is one of the UK Government’s headline organistions and  I have followed its progress for many years. I am especially interested in its work in rolling out life-saving vaccines in developing countries where 85% of the world’s unvaccinated children live. The results have been staggering to date: since its creation in 2000 it has immunised 288 million children and saved 5 million lives and is aiming to save more than 4 million more by 2015. Therefore when I was given the opportunity to see this work in action in a Dhaka children’s hospital and urban slum I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

Going into the visit I thought of a similar visit I undertook in Kenya, where I saw crowded wards of whole families huddled together in unsanitary conditions. Medical waste sat in heaps on the floor and sick children ran around the hospital. That was a very moving visit and highlighted to me just how big a gulf there is between the richest nations and poorest.

But, ever since I arrived in Dhaka you can tell that it is a bustling city on the rise. This same sense was evident in the Dhaka Shishu Hospital. I arrived and was met by Professor Samir Saha, the Head of the Microbiology at the hospital. He took us around the wards and the laboratories and explained the work they were undertaking. His team are a pioneering group helping to improve the diagnosis of infections and disease surveillance and to better document the impact of immunisation in Bangladesh. We also met the Government Expanded Programme for Immunisation Team and heard about the great strides they had been making over the past few years. You cannot hide the fact that childhood mortality still greatly affects the country; in fact 55,000 lives every year are claimed by pneumonia. In the hospital wards, we saw the young children fighting this terrible disease, which along with diarrhoea accounts for nearly 40% of all childhood mortality in the developing world. We also saw a the impact of malnutrition and poor healthcare education, which leads to children going undiagnosed and not receiving the vital treatment they need.

But overall it was actually a picture of great hope and improvement. I was delighted to see the progress that Bangladesh has been making in immunisation with the support of the GAVI Alliance. We witnessed a well run and effective immunisation session; heard from maternal health workers about their drive to educate mothers about the healthcare of their children. We visited the central vaccine store for Bangladesh and heard about their checks and balances that ensure that vaccines are stored and distributed correctly.

Bangladesh is just one of many countries benefitting in this way. Thanks to the funding from the UK and other donors such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the excellent work of the GAVI Alliance is being replicated across the developing world. Access to life-saving vaccines has been delivered to countries 10-15 years sooner than would have otherwise been possible. Nicaragua became the first GAVI-eligible country to introduce the life-saving pneumococcal vaccine and it is now being used in 15 developing countries and has already reached more than three million children with another 10 million expected to receive the vaccine in 2012. In fact today, Malawi will become the 16th GAVI-supported country to introduce the vaccine.

Therefore the picture is increasingly encouraging in Bangladesh and across the globe, but there are still challenges. With an increasingly close relationship between the major donors and aid providers in the world we can continue to move forward and provide successful vaccinations to those that really need them.