New vaccines are saving South Africa’s children’s lives

6 May 2015

Health Minister Dr Aaron Motsoaledi says the South African government needs to change its budget strategy to strengthen the public health system if the country, along with other African states, is to take the continent forward.

Delivering his budget speech to Parliament on Tuesday, the minister said the strategy would also prioritise the prevention of disease and promotion of health to ensure that people get good quality health care.

Motsoaledi said the need for stronger public health systems was crucial if outbreaks of diseases such as ebola, meningitis, tuberculosis, HIV and Aids, and polio were to be prevented and managed.

A recent WHO conference recommended that instead of vertical programmes, or separate budgets, to fight diseases, governments should instead invest in strengthening public health systems.

“We believe that what will help Africa are strong health systems which, in turn, will withstand whatever outbreak emerges because . we actually do not know what will follow next.

The Minister said that in the 2014/15 financial year, his department had been putting in place plans to strengthen the public health system.

“This will include preventing disease, promoting health and making sure that our people get good quality health care. This is our mandate and this we shall pursue with vigour. This does not mean vertical programmes are to be abandoned. It simply means that strengthening health care systems will be our flagship while vertical programmes will be supportive,” he said.

Prevention is better than cure

Motsoaledi said that while curing diseases was usually regarded as a scientific achievement, prevention was not given the same stature.

He said this was the reason why in the public health sector, any negative event that happened was immediately regarded as a collapse of the health system.

“No matter what detractors will say, we shall not abandon or weaken the preventative aspect of the health system. On the contrary, it is going to be the foundation of our programme of health system strengthening,” he said.

To pursue the goal of prevention, the department of health introduced new vaccines in 2009 in its routine immunisation programme, including the Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and the rotavirus vaccine.

“Pneumococcal diseases include very dangerous diseases like meningitis and severe pneumonia. These are the leading causes of death of children five years and under globally. In South Africa, pneumococcal disease comes only second to HIV and AIDS in causing deaths of under fives,” he said.

The impact of the new vaccines have been monitored by the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), which reports that the incidence of invasive pneumococcal disease in children under the age of five had decreased by 70% since the introduction of the vaccines. The number of children under the age of two admitted to hospital with rotavirus-caused diarrhoea had decreased by 66%.

The government had budgeted R450-million a year for pneumococcal vaccines and R200-million a year for a vaccine offering protection against rotavirus. This, together with better programmes for the treatment of HIV/AIDS, had contributed to a significant improvement in South Africa’s childhood mortality rate, Motsoaledi said.

SAinfo reporter and SAnews.gov