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AFRICA: Lifesaving vaccines to reach 37 more countries

September 27, 2011 |  9:06 am

Africa vaccines
REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA -- Vaccines against rotavirus and pneumonia, the major killers of children in Africa, will be distributed to 37 more countries, 24 of them in Africa, according to the GAVI Alliance, a group of aid agencies, foundations and vaccine manufacturers.

The alliance announced in Geneva on Tuesday that it had approved applications Monday from 16 countries for funding for the rotavirus vaccine against diarrhea and from 18 countries for pneumococcal vaccine against pneumonia.

Sudan introduced the rotavirus vaccine in July as part of its national immunization program, the first African country to do so. Under the new funding announced by the GAVI Alliance, 12 more African countries will be able to do the same.

In 2009, the World Health Organization recommended that countries immunize against rotavirus as part of their national immunization programs.

“The death toll of rotavirus and pneumococcal infections in Africa is particularly devastating, and this is where these vaccines will make the most significant impact, not only in lives saved, but also in terms of healthy lives lived,” GAVI Alliance chief executive Seth Berkley said Tuesday.

Rotavirus is the main cause of severe diarrhea in children under age 5 and kills more than 500,000 children worldwide each year, with millions more sickened by the disease. Pneumococcal disease causes pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis and also kills more than half a million children each year, mainly in Africa and Asia.

By 2015, the GAVI Alliance and its partners plan to offer funding to 40 developing countries to immunize more than 50 million children against rotavirus. By then they also plan to assist those countries to immunize more than 90 million children against pneumococcal disease.

"These new vaccines will prevent millions of children from dying of pneumonia and diarrhea, the biggest killers of children under 5," said UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake. "In rolling out these vaccines, we need to focus especially on reaching the children at greatest risk, for it is among the most vulnerable that these vaccines can make the biggest difference, especially if they are combined with better nutrition, sanitation and other critical interventions."


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Photo: A child receives immunizations for measles, vitamin A and deworming medication in a program supported by the GAVI Aliance and managed by UNICEF in Semonkong, Lesotho. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times