New vaccines to curb child mortality

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Pretoria - In a further effort to combat child mortality in South Africa, the Department of Health is to roll-out three new vaccines in August.

The Rotavirus vaccine, Pentavalent vaccine and Pneumococcal Conjugate vaccine, which form part of government's Expanded Programme of Immunisation, are to be made available free at all public health facilities throughout the country.

A specialist involved the immunisation programme, Dr Ntombenhle Nqcobo, said government had set a target of reducing child mortality by two thirds by 2015.

The mortality rate in South Africa for children under five is high considering the level of economic development reached. The largest contributing factor in these cases is HIV and AIDS.

Worldwide, it is estimated that 10 million children die each year from preventable and treatable causes.

According to Dr Nqcobo, child mortality can be reduced by scaling up and intensifying vaccination strategies and therefore the department was determined to reach as many children as possible.

"We want to vaccinate more and more children with this new vaccine. Every child has a right to vaccination," she said.

According to the department, immunization prevents more than three million deaths a year.

Professor Shabir Madhi from the University of Witwatersrand encouraged the use of the Pneumococcal vaccine, saying it protects against severe life threatening diseases caused by a bacterium streptococcus pneumoniae, also known as pneumococcus.

The vaccine can be used in the fight against pneumonia, which affects the chest and the ability to give oxygen to the body, meningitis which affects the brain and spinal cord and septicaemia refers to a condition where bacteria multiply in the blood stream.

These diseases can lead to major complications such as deafness and brain damage and can even be fatal.

The Pneumococcal vaccine should be administered to children at 6 weeks, 14 weeks and 9 months.

The Rotavirus vaccine will help provide protection against the Rotavirus which causes diarrhea, leading to dehydration, electrolyte imbalances and death.

According to the department, the Rotavirus is a major problem in developing countries, as it is not always possible for infected children to reach a hospital in time and thus they are likely to succumb to the disease.

The Pentavelent vaccine is a combination vaccine with five components. It protects against five conditions, namely diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, haemophilus influenza and polio.

The new vaccine replaces an older combination of four antigens, which is called Combact-Hib. The advantage of this vaccine lies in it being more advanced and causing less side effects.

All children should be vaccinated with Pentavelent at 6 weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks and at 18 months.