Kenya, with the support of the GAVI Alliance is set to roll out pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) routinely throughout all health facilities with the aim of saving lives of thousands of infants from death and illness due to pneumococcal disease.
The ceremonial shots against pneumococcal diseases (mainly consisting of pneumonia and meningitis) will take place on Monday February, 14 when Kenya marks the global roll-out of vaccines targeting world's biggest killer of children - pneumonia.
"Introducing the new pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in developing countries is a critical step that can prevent millions of bouts of illness and countless deaths in children from the terrible disease that pneumonia is," says Helen Evans, Interim CEO of GAVI Alliance at a global media briefing on Friday in Geneva.
Every year, the bacterium known as Streptococcus pneumoniae, or pneumococcal disease, hits more than 14.5 million people annually and kills more than 500,000 children, most of them in the poorest countries of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. In Kenya, Dr Shanaz Shariff, Director of Public Health, Ministry of Public health and Sanitation says at least 30, 000 Kenyan children under five years of age die due to pneumococcal disease. According to the doctor, pneumococcal diseases kill more children than AIDS, Malaria and diarrheal diseases combined.
"This massive death toll makes it impossible to significantly improve child survival without introducing new tools to prevent the primary cause of the deadliest forms of pneumonia and meningitis throughout the developing world," says Marina Krawczyk of GAVI.
The new pneumococcal vaccines being introduced in Kenya have been specially tailored for children in developing countries because they cover the strains or "serotypes" of pneumococcal disease that are the most prevalent in vulnerable regions.
According to Dr. Orin Levine, a researcher with the Johns Hopkins University and one of the world's top experts on pneumococcal disease, the vaccine is effective and efficacious according to all tests carried out.
By rapidly scaling up the roll-out of the pneumococcal vaccine to more than 40 countries, including Kenya, GAVI and its partners such as UNICEF and WHO say they can avert approximately 700,000 deaths by 2015 and up to seven million deaths by 2030.
Kenya is the first African country to introduce the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine in the past three months after Nicaragua, Guyana, and Yemen. Sierra Leone has also introduced the vaccine. Rwanda, and Gambia did introduce an earlier version of the vaccine (PCV7) vaccine in 2009 as a result of a donation from a pharmaceutical company.
The GAVI-funded pneumococcal vaccine will be given to babies from the six weeks after birth, followed with a second and third jabs in the 10th and 14 weeks of life.
Countries like Kenya are improving their overall vaccine strategies. PCV vaccine will be given at the same time as pentavalent vaccine, which protects against five common childhood diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), haemophilus influenzaee type B (or Hib which causes meningitis and pneumonia) and hepatitis B.
"It is encouraging that Kenya has decided to integrate PCV 10 with its delivery of the pentavalent vaccine," says Olivia Yambi, UNICEF's country representative to Kenya.
The roll-out of the PCV10 in Nairobi offers countries in the region an opportunity to assess not only the effectiveness of the vaccine but also of roll-out programme and spare children from losing school-going times in attending to hospitals for a very treatable and preventable disease.
To help effective roll-out the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV), the government has started putting infrastructure in place and trained her medical staff. Kenya will utilize her widespread networks of health facilities and in-built immunization infrastructure, found even in such slums as Kibera leading to an immunization coverage of 80%, to immunize children. The vaccine, will be given for free both in public and private hospital facilities for any child under one year of age.
GAVI, a public-private global health partnership committed to saving children's lives, has so far committed to support the introduction of pneumococcal vaccines in 19 developing countries within a year and, if it gets sufficient funding from its donors, plans to roll them out to more than 40 countries by 2015. The roll-out of the pneumococcal vaccines in the developing world has been made possible through an innovative finance mechanism pioneered by GAVI called the Advance Market Commitment (AMC).
The point of this Advance Market Commitment is to stimulate the much-needed roll-out in developing countries of an existing vaccine, thanks to the promise of a large market and the additional incentive of a subsidy to producers. In exchange for receiving a subsidy to create extra production capacity to cater to developing country needs, producers make a commitment to provide the vaccine at a set price ($3.50 per dose).
With US$ 1.5 billion from Italy, the United Kingdom, Canada, the Russian Federation, Norway, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a commitment of US$ 1.3 billion from GAVI, the AMC allowed the acceleration of production capacity from the two manufacturers contracted so far.
This is securing the supply of pneumococcal vaccines within a year following the introduction of those vaccines in Europe and in the United States and at a fraction of the price charged in rich countries.
GAVI Alliance still needs an additional US$ 3.7 billion over the next five years to continue its support for immunisation in the developing countries and introduce new and underused vaccines including the pneumococcal vaccine and the rotavirus vaccine which tackles diarrhoea - the second biggest killer of children under five.
It is hoped that developing countries who are going to benefit from the PCV will internally develop budgetary allocations to supplement what donors give.