3 August 2009
South Africa is to make three new vaccines freely available at public healthcare facilities across the country as part of efforts to combat child mortality.
The Rotavirus vaccine, Pentavalent vaccine and Pneumococcal Conjugate vaccine will be introduced this month as part of the government’s expanded immunisation programme, which aims to reduce child mortality by two-thirds by 2015.
“We want to vaccinate more and more children with this new vaccine,” Dr Ntombenhle Nqcobo, a specialist involved with the immunisation programme, said in Pretoria last week. “Every child has a right to vaccination.”
According to the Department of Health, immunisation 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 the 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, a condition where bacteria multiply in the bloodstream.
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 diarrhoea, 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 fewer side-effects.
All children should be vaccinated with Pentavelent at 6 weeks, 10 weeks and 14 weeks and at 18 months.
The mortality rate in South Africa for children under five is high considering the level of economic development reached, and the largest contributing factor in these cases is HIV/Aids.
Worldwide, it is estimated that 10-million children die each year from preventable and treatable causes.