Increasing Immunization Rates And New Vaccine Offer Hope For Ethiopian Children\n

Armen Hareyan's picture

A significant step forward to protect children against hib pneumonia and meningitis chronic liver disease caused by hepatitis B can now be prevented. An estimated 1 in 25 child deaths will be averted.

- A Significant Step Forward to Protect Children Against Hib Pneumonia and Meningitis

- Chronic Liver Disease Caused by Hepatitis B can now be Prevented

- An Estimated 1 in 25 Child Deaths Will be Averted

Spring marks the beginning of a series of activities launching a new childhood vaccine in Ethiopia, which combines the benefits of the previous diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTP) vaccine and adds protection against two additional deadly killers: Haemophilus Influenzae type B (Hib) and Hepatitis B. The Hib bacterium is a major cause of life-threatening pneumonia and meningitis in children. Hepatitis B virus can cause chronic liver disease and, in some cases, cancer later in life. This is a significant development in a large country with high child mortality rates due to common, yet preventable diseases.

Activities began with the announcement of the new vaccine in the Somali region, an area where historically routine immunization has been low, underlining the Ethiopian government's commitment to protecting its children. It is estimated that one in seven Ethiopian children die before they reach the age of five. Added protection against some of the most feared diseases should give parents more reason to get their children vaccinated. The vaccine, which is provided as a combination, replaces the old vaccine and does not require additional injections or visits to benefit from the expanded protection.


"We are proud to invest in life saving vaccines for our country's children. We estimate that Hib vaccine can save the life of 1 of every 25 children who die under the age of five. The vaccines will also help prevent life-long disability from meningitis and chronic liver disease and will prevent deaths caused by Hepatitis B," said Dr Kebede Worku, State Minister for Health, Ethiopia.

It was no easy feat to bring these vaccines to Ethiopia. To be eligible for funding from the GAVI Alliance, Ethiopia needed to routinely vaccinate at least 50% of children. With significant education efforts and commitment, 69% of Ethiopian children are fully immunized, according to 2005 WHO data and this has now grown to 72%. Hopefully, the number of children protected will rise even further with the new vaccine.

"We are delighted that Ethiopia is introducing a new vaccine which will protect Ethiopian children against Hib and Hepatitis B, as well as DTP" said Julian Lob-Levyt, Executive Secretary of the GAVI Alliance. "This 'five in one' shot is one of the most advanced immunization products available, enabling countries to make a large stride towards their health targets. Ethiopia is demonstrating, through its sustainable introduction of life-saving vaccines, its clear commitment to reaching the Millennium Development Goals in health."

According to the WHO, Hib disease globally is responsible for 400,000 deaths each year in children under five years of age and around 3 million cases of serious illness resulting in long term consequences such as deafness, learning disabilities, paralysis and mental retardation. Hepatitis B is a serious global public health problem leading to an estimated one million deaths each year. Of the 2 billion people worldwide who have been infected, more than 350 million have chronic (lifelong) infections. These chronically infected persons are at high risk of death from cirrhosis of the liver and liver cancer.

The success of the new vaccines in young children has already been demonstrated in a number of African countries. Studies in the Gambia, Kenya and Malawi, countries which routinely vaccinate children with pentavalent (the 'five in one') vaccine have already shown that Hib, previously the leading cause of childhood bacterial meningitis, is almost never seen among the cases of children contracting meningitis. This shows that routine immunization programs are working.

"Hundreds of thousands of young children in Africa are dying of Hib disease because of a lack of national Hib immunization programs", said Dr. Thomas Cherian, Coordinator, Expanded Program on Immunization of the World Health Organization (WHO) Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals Department. "The introduction of the pentavalent vaccine provides additional protection to the children of Ethiopia not only against Hib disease, but also against Hepatitis B."

"The introduction of this vaccine, which has been demonstrated to be safe and highly effective under a wide variety of conditions, is such an important step forward in reducing child mortality" said Dr. Rana Hajjeh, Project Director, the Hib Initiative. "Now that the vaccine is available in Ethiopia, we hope that even more parents will fully immunize their children, reducing the threat of serious disease."