Island News

No child is born to die

Written By : DAVINDER KUMAR. Tayitu’s eyes well up with tears each time she gazes helplessly at her son Siham as he struggles to draw breath. She is still grieving
04 Feb 2011 12:00

image Written By : DAVINDER KUMAR. Tayitu’s eyes well up with tears each time she gazes helplessly at her son Siham as he struggles to draw breath.
She is still grieving over the loss of Siham’s twin-brother Redwan, who died only a few months ago due to pneumonia.
Tayitu now fears the fatal disease may have returned, this time to claim Siham – who has just turned one. She is losing hope fast.
The nearest district hospital from her village in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia is a four hour drive away, and the last time she took Redwan there, she had to wait for more than a day to see a doctor. Redwan received intensive treatment for 12 days but died soon after he returned home.
“Now Siham has also started with breathing problems. It’s as if his breathing is obstructed. I’ve taken him to the health centre but I’m afraid that even if I take him to the hospital, like I did with Redwan, it will not make a difference,” says Tayitu.

Child killers
Her fears for the life of her son are not misplaced. Pneumonia accounts for nearly one in three child deaths in Ethiopia, other major killers being diarrhoea and malaria.
Globally, the picture is not much different in most of the poorest countries.
Pneumonia and diarrhoea kill more children under the age of five than any other illnesses, accounting for three times more deaths than malaria and HIV combined. Annually, 1.6 million children under five die of pneumonia and 1.3 million succumb to diarrhoeal diseases. Almost all of these deaths occur in developing countries.
“For every child who dies from pneumonia – the most common form of serious pneumococcal disease – in rich countries, 2,000 die from pneumonia in developing countries. This is not acceptable,” says Helen Evans, the interim CEO of GAVI Alliance (formerly known as Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation) – a public-private global health partnership created in 2000 to save children’s lives and protect people’s health by increasing access to immunisation in the world’s poorest countries.
But there is a new glimmer of hope. Experts believe the scandalous scale of child mortality can be drastically reduced through adequate health care interventions, including immunisations.
In what could be described as the biggest global fight against pneumonia and diarrhoea to date, GAVI has started providing the most advanced vaccines ever to the world’s poorest countries which could potentially save millions of children’s lives.
Initially the pneumonia vaccines are being rolled out and GAVI intends to follow the release with rotaviral diarrhoea vaccines in the near future.
For pneumonia, this is the first time that variants of a vaccine are being made available that specifically target the strains of the disease prevalent in a region.
The rotavirus vaccine, on the other hand, is targeted at saving children from rotaviral diarrhoea which is highly communicable; just clean water, sanitation and hygiene will not prevent babies from contracting it, and virtually every child on the planet will have at least one infection by their third birthday.
In the most severe cases infants will quickly become dehydrated, putting their lives in danger.
In wealthy countries, few children die from rotaviral diarrhoea because of ready access to health care services and over-the-counter treatment, and because well-nourished children are less susceptible in the first place.
In developing countries, however, rotavirus can be lethal – especially if children have a weakened immune system because they are malnourished. The problem is further compounded if they have limited or no access to health care.
The new immunisation drive – which will see infants in Kenya, Sierra Leone, Yemen and Guyana immunised against pneumonia through their public health service for the first time this year – means the poorest countries can access the benefits of the vaccine within months of it being rolled out in the West.
This is a significant departure from what has happened in the past, where developing countries had to wait for years before the same vaccines were released in their markets at a price affordable to them.
In an innovative co-financing scheme, the developing countries will share the cost of these vaccines starting at only a few cents, depending on their per capita income.
The rest of the cost will be borne by the funds pooled by GAVI, donated by rich nations and other donors.
An important part of the arrangement involves pharmaceutical companies supplying the latest vaccines for distribution at a significantly reduced cost to what they charge in developed markets.
In return, they get a committed investment from donors for long-term supply. It is like ordering a large stock of supplies from a wholesaler and getting a massive discount.

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