Rwanda Tackles Pneumonia

27/9/2010 - With the rolling out of a nation-wide pneumonia vaccination program, Rwanda has made great strides in improving child mortality.

Just over a year ago, Rwanda introduced a pneumonia vaccine as part of its standard immunization package for young children. It was the first low-income country in the world to do so.

The vaccine, known as PCV7, protects children against the most common causes of pneumonia (which include viruses, bacteria and other harmful microorganisms). The vaccine also protects against meningitis and septicemia. Hopefully, Rwanda’s rolling out of PCV7 in April 2009 and its continued implementation in the future will save the lives of 6,000 children under the age of five annually.

Pneumonia kills two million children under the age of five every year. According to UNICEF, this is more than the combined total for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. In Rwanda, 20,000 children lose their lives prematurely to pneumonia annually.

But, according to health workers in Rwanda’s capital city, Kigali, the change has been noticeable.  While the full impact of the vaccines may be difficult to discern at present, Dr. Dariya Mukamusoni of one district hospital in Kigali, has observed that “the rate of hospitalization for pneumonia amongst infants has declined.”

A complementary part of Rwanda’s strategy in implementing the vaccines has been the scaling up of community health education programs. Community education projects help parents to understand the importance having their children immunized.

Already, Rwanda’s rate of vaccination coverage has increased to 90%. While Rwanda is only one of the few African countries to benefit from PCV7, millions of lives could be saved in the coming decades. In the next five years, another 47 countries are expected to roll out similar national pneumonia vaccination programs.

Doune Porter, spokesperson for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation – which supported Rwanda’s initiative – expressed the importance of letting donor countries know that pneumonia is not only an illness attacks the elderly.  Across sub-Saharan Africa, despite being an easily preventable disease, penumonia remains the number one killer of children.

Given that Rwanda has made great strides in bringing down the number of deaths related to malaria, these new improvements have made sure that it is on track to meet Millennium Development Goal #4 to reduce child mortality by two-thirds below 1990 levels.