Pneumonia is the leading killer of children under five in Yemen, with acute respiratory diseases accounting for 20 to 23 per cent of the country’s infant deaths.
But that is set to change with the GAVI-supported introduction in January of a new vaccine against pneumococcal disease, the leading cause of pneumonia.
From the first day of the vaccine launch, families flocked to health centers across the country, bringing their babies for protection against this killer disease. The Ministry of Health had ensured the vaccines would be available countrywide and had conducted a major information campaign so people would know about the vaccine.
Pneumonia takes its highest toll among the poor, where access to health care is limited. In Yemen, poverty combines with deserts, a lack of roads and mountainous terrain, making it difficult to bring a sick child for medical help. Only half of Yemen’s population of more than 23 million has access to a health facility, so only the lucky ones are able to get medical treatment.
Several times a year, outreach workers travel by four wheel drive vehicles, on bicycles and on foot to vaccinate those babies living far from any health facilities. All children will now be protected against dangerous childhood diseases, including pneumococcal disease. All routine vaccination is free.
This vaccination saves children’s lives. By preventing disease, it will also save on medical costs for families in the grip of poverty.
GAVI and its partners aim to assist in rolling out pneumococcal vaccines in more than 40 of the world’s poorest countries by 2015, which could avert approximately 700,000 deaths by 2015 and up to seven million deaths by 2030.