South Africa is to introduce two more vaccines, pneumococcus conjugate and rotavirus, to the country’s immunisation programme, which aims to reduce the mortality rate of children under the age of five.
Pneumococcus is reported to be responsible for a majority of pneumonia cases and causes an estimated 1.8-million deaths in children under five mainly in developing and poor countries. The pneumococcus conjugate vaccine protects children against diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis and other more common infections such as sinusitis.
The Rotavirus vaccine is known to protect children against the rotavirus, which causes severe diarrhoea among infants under five years, often leading to death.
Alma Ata Declaration
The two vaccines are being introduced this week as South Africa and the rest of the world marks the 30th anniversary of the Alma Ata Declaration, which calls on nations to place emphasis on primary healthcare as part of their plans to deliver healthcare.
“This is a milestone for Africa – we are the first country on the continent to provide these vaccines in the public sector and I must add without charge,” said Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimant at the launch of the vaccines in the Eastern Cape’s Ukhahlamba district on Friday.
National Institute for Communicable Diseases clinical microbiologist Anne von Gottberg said the rollout was good news for South Africa. She said both vaccines had the potential to reduce the infant mortality rate in South Africa as both infections were common in South African infants.
“I work specifically with pneumococcal disease,” said Von Gottberg. “And this vaccine has been used safely and effectively in for example North America and Europe.”
Data from these countries showed a remarkable reduction in disease due, she said.
Saving 14 children a day
The health department intends to have the vaccines made available throughout the Eastern Cape by October this year and nationally by the end of March next year.
“We estimate that the introduction of these vaccines will save about 14 lives of children each day or more than 4 700 deaths per year from pneumococcal pneumonia and viral diarrhea,” said Tshabalala-Msimang.
According to Von Gottberg, the vaccination schedule will follow the routine infant immunization schedule in South Africa. Once the vaccines are available nationally, infants will receive the additional vaccines during the routinely scheduled visits at six, 10 and 14 weeks and again at 9 and 12 months.
Primary healthcare delivery
Over the past 14 years, South Africa has made significant progress in providing health services to its citizens including the strengthened implementation of its expanded immunisation programme and the introduction of the Vitamin A campaign for infants, children and mothers – with immunisation coverage currently standing at 84%.
The department has also made gains in implementing the primary healthcare in the country by adopting the district health system as the institutional vehicle to deliver primary healthcare.
There is a significant increase in primary healthcare utilisation, with the number of people making use of healthcare services rising from 67 million in 1998/9 to 101 million visits in 2006/7.
The average number of new cases of diarrhoea per 1 000 children under the age of five also dropped, from 258 in 2005 to 119 in 2006.