Rwanda is Proud to Pioneer the Pneumococcal Vaccine

In this guest blog for World Pneumonia Day on the 12th of November Dr. Agnes Binagwaho, Minister of Health, writes on Rwanda’s partnership with the GAVI alliance to pioneer the Pneumococcal Vaccine.

In April 2009, Rwanda became the first low-income country to rollout the pneumococcal vaccine (PCV7) through a partnership with Wyeth. This was a great moment for us, for after having achieved dramatic reductions in malaria incidence, pneumococcal disease had stood as the new leading cause of death among Rwandan children. And it was the dedicated work of our partner, The GAVI Alliance for Vaccines, that ensured the pneumococcal vaccine would be both accessible and affordable for use in our country.

Pneumonia remains the single largest cause of death among children under five around the world. Every 20 seconds, a child dies of this preventable disease.

On November 12, 2011, Rwanda will join other countries in observing the third World Pneumonia Day, a day to celebrate the power of immunization to save lives when access is assured.

The PCV7 vaccine also prevents against pneuomoccal meningitis, a debilitating disease that leaves children who survive it with lifelong mental and physical disabilities.

Certainly immunization is not the only way to prevent pneumonia; breast-feeding, improved nutrition, and the reduction of indoor air pollution are also essential, and children must have access to effective antibiotics when they do fall sick. But immunization removes the burden of hospitalization and treatment on the health system and diminishes the time . This is a major economic advantage in countries like Rwanda, where the time lost by parents lose from work in caring for their children. For immunization to work, it needs to be integrated fully in health and community services. This is what we did in Rwanda.

Last year, the pneumococcal vaccine was scaled up in 16 countries. By 2015, GAVI expects that 58 countries will have introduced the latest generation pneumococcal vaccines nationwide, covering another 90 million children. With sustained commitment among all partners, including both GAVI countries and donor countries, we can achieve remarkable progress in the fight against preventable deaths among children.

The number of lives saved by GAVI is a major contribution towards the world’s pursuit of the fourth Millennium Development Goal, but we must sustain the momentum. In Rwanda today, more than 80% of children have access to the pneumococcal vaccine. The children whose lives are being saved through our partnership with GAVI will help to build a Rwanda where health for all is not simply a dream but one of the foundations of a strong, peaceful nation of tomorrow.