On 26 April 2012, during World Immunization Week, mothers and babies, doctors and nurses, tribal elders and supporters from all over the world, came together in Independence Square, Accra, to celebrate the launch of two new vaccines to help protect children against two of the leading child killers – pneumonia and diarrhoea.

As a sea breeze from the Bay of Guinea and brightly festooned tents provided respite from the sun, First Lady H.E. Dr Ernestina Naadu Mills told assembled guests that Ghana prides itself if being a pioneer and was proud to become the first African country to roll out these two life-saving vaccines at the same time.

Globally, pneumonia and severe infant diarrhoea together take the lives of more than 2.7 million children under the age of five each year. In Ghana, these killer diseases together account for approximately 20% of the country’s under-five child mortality.

The First Lady was joined by Ghana’s Minister of Health Hon. M Alban S. K. Bagbin, GAVI Alliance CEO Dr Seth Berkley, WHO Deputy Director General Dr Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, UNICEF Country Representative Dr Iyabode Olusanmi and other international guests and donors at the special ceremony, where the first doses of the vaccines were administered to infants.

“Today is a great day for Ghanaians as we have the opportunity to improve the lot of our children, who are our greatest resource. The future of our country lies in our children,” said the First Lady, who herself gave the first rotavirus vaccine dose.

“Our children have been dying from these vaccine-preventable diseases for too long, but this moment begins a major fight back,” said Health Minister Hon. Alban S. K. Bagbin. “With these vaccines, we want to, and we will, achieve MDG4, the two-thirds reduction of our child mortality by 2015.”

Ghana’s historic rollout marks a new milestone in a global initiative to reach children in developing countries with vaccines against the leading childhood killers. Pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines have respectively reached 17 and six GAVI-supported countries in the last couple of years, and are expected to reach more than 40 countries by 2015.

“With the hard work and effort that has gone into this double launch, Ghana has established itself as a pioneer in the fight against pneumonia and diarrhoeal disease,” said GAVI CEO Seth Berkley, MD. “Today’s simultaneous launch marks yet another ambitious and encouraging step to make life-saving vaccines rapidly and efficiently available to the children who need them the most wherever they are born.”

Ghana’s commitment to public health through immunisation has been consistently improving since 1978 when the Expanded Programme on Immunisation was launched.

“Immunisation rates for infants in Ghana now stand at over 90%,” said Dr Anarfi Asamoa-Baah, Deputy Director-General for WHO. “In addition to the strong routine immunisation programme, the country also conducts supplemental immunisation activities to reduce the incidence of diseases such as polio, measles and yellow fever.”

By preventing disease, Ghana’s double launch will also prevent the time and cost of expensive medical care and treatment, contributing to poverty reduction and a growing economy. Treating rotavirus diarrhoea among children in Ghana, for example, costs the West African nation an estimated US$ 3.2 million per year.

“The potential lifesaving impact of pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines is enormous. However, at the heart of any successful intervention is positive behaviour change within communities,” said UNICEF Country Representative Dr Iyabode Olusanmi.

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