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WHO has estimated that pneumococcal disease is the leading cause of vaccine-preventable deaths in children
under the age of five years
The term ‘pneumococcal disease’ describes a group of illnesses caused by the bacterium streptococcus pneumoniae,also called pneumococcus. It can include invasive infections such as meningitis,bacteremia / sepsis as well as non-invasive infections such as pneumonia and acute otitis media. According to the 2004 estimate of the World Health Organisation,pneumococcal diseases are the leading cause of vaccine-preventable death in children younger than the age of five years,worldwide. However,experts feel that despite being one of the world’s most significant health burdens,pneumococcal disease is also one of the most preventable. Ten years after the introduction of the first pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV),leading global public health experts convened in Kuala Lumpur for the Asia Pneumococcal Disease (PD) Conference,organised by Pfizer in collaboration with the Malaysian Paediatric Association.
Dr Nitin Shah,who was one of the representatives of India at the conference,said,India is a populous country and a striking fact is that 20 per cent of the deaths of children below the age of five years in the world take place in India every year. This is despite the fact that less than 20 per cent of the children in the world stay here. Besides nutrition and other healthcare facilities,public health interventions,both preventive and curative,play a significant role in bringing down the child death percentage.
Dr Shah said that the Indian Academy of Paediatrics has recommended the introduction of PCV in the vaccination programme. As per the Global Alliance in Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) guidelines,India is one of the 72 countries eligible for the course sharing programme and Dr Shah said that the government needs to take the initiative to apply for availing the programme. Stressing on the fact that introducing the vaccine is mandatory for India,Dr Shah further said,India is a signatory to Millennium Development Goal 4 (MDG 4),that makes it compulsory for us to reduce the infant mortality rate to less than half in the next four years. Given that in India,30 out of 100 infant deaths are due to pneumonia and one out of them is because of pneumococcal pneumonia,we feel that the vaccine needs to be made a part of the vaccination programme.