No excuse for waiting to save children’s lives

Interview with Dr. K.O. Antwi-Agyei, Ghana’s Expanded Program on Immunization Manager by Doune Porter, GAVI Alliance.

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Dr. K.O. Antwi-Agyei, manager of Ghana’s Expanded Program on Immunization (EPI) wants no part of “business as usual.” He and his team are working on an unprecedented joint GAVI-supported introduction of pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines, which will protect children against the leading causes of pneumonia and severe diarrhea. The launch will take place in Accra on April 26, 2012.

“Pneumonia and diarrhea are killing our children,” says Dr. Antwi-Agyei. “Yes, it is challenging to introduce two vaccines at the same time, but the diseases are not waiting for us, so that when we are finished dealing with one, only then will the other show itself. In the meantime, people are dying. We need to do business unusually.

“Introducing a vaccine involves a series of processes, changing reporting forms, changing the child health record card, training staff, adding cold chain storage space, educating the public and many other processes, and going through the cycle takes quite some time. We cannot afford the luxury of waiting before we take up another vaccine.

More about the launch:

“We are making progress towards Millennium Development Goal four, to reduce child deaths by two thirds by 2015 – but we do not have a lot of time left. The major causes of under five deaths had to be addressed, which is why we are tackling pneumonia and diarrhea. There are challenges, of course, but the greatest benefit will be the reduction of under five deaths.

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“We’re happy that we’re doing something which will maybe serve as a lesson for other countries and could be replicated elsewhere. Disease doesn’t have the temperament to wait and it doesn’t have mercy on poor people. It’s acting and it’s taking advantage of ‘we’re not ready’. We in Ghana have long ago learned that excuses is not a disease control measure. You can have good reasons not to do things, but even a good reason not to control a disease is actually an advantage to the disease.”