Thousands of children miss out on lifesaving vaccines

By Gatonye Gathura

Some 400,000 children are missing out on lifesaving vaccines, even as shots for malaria and cervical cancer are planned for next year.

During the World Immunization Week, ending on Sunday it was learnt Kenya will be piloting in malaria vaccine trials while 3.5 million girls will be vaccinated against cervical cancer.

A vaccine for the nearly fatal meningitis, currently a major outbreak in Nigeria is been rolled out in Kenya.

However, the immunization community says Kenya is not reaching almost a third of its 1.5 million children born annually with crucial vaccines.

At a meeting held in Machakos in March by the two levels of government, health donors and NGOs, the Cabinet Secretary for Health Cleopa Mailu said immunization coverage has stagnated at 80 per cent.

“Let us critically re-examine and interrogate our immunization performance, with a view to improving coverage that has stagnated at around 80 per cent over the last few years,” said Mailu.

Even with the national coverage of 80 per cent instead of a desired 90 per cent the figures vary dramatically by regions. In northern Kenya less than half of children are being vaccinated with just about a quarter in Mandera County.

This state of affairs was partially blamed on devolution of health services with county governments said to have denied immunization of crucial funding and political will.

“We much reach every child everywhere,” said Margaret Olele, Pfizer Corporate Affairs Director during the immunization week.

Pfizer Inc. an American pharmaceutical corporation has just introduced the new vaccine, Nimenrix, against the bacterial infection meningitis that is always almost fatal.

Olele, say the meningitis vaccine is important for Kenya at this time there is an ongoing outbreak in Nigeria that had caused 8,000 cases and nearly 800 deaths by last week.

“Kenya is among 16 countries in Africa laying on the Meningitis Belt that has a very high prevalence rate. Through travelling and mass gathering, the disease spreads very rapidly and with significant impact on lives,” says Olele.

The World Health Organization warns the disease can be transmitted from person-to-person through droplets of respiratory or throat secretions from carriers.

Close and prolonged contact – such as kissing, sneezing or coughing on someone, or living in close quarters facilitates the spread of the disease.

The WHO suggests that if every child in the world received a vaccine to protect against pneumonia, and meningitis it would prevent an estimated 11 million days of antibiotic use each year.

The vaccine, Nimenrix, is recommended for all age groups above one year. However getting older children and adults to be vaccinated presents the next challenge.

“Normally vaccines are associated with children but now products for all ages are coming into the pipeline which may present new challenges,” says Collins Tabu the head of immunization at the Ministry of Health.

Examples are the meningitis, cervical cancer, flu and hepatitis vaccines which are relatively new and covering a range of age groups.

The chairman of the Global Antibiotic Resistance Partnership (GARP)–Kenya Working Group Sam Kariuki says vaccines are important in fighting antibiotics resistance especially in children.

“We need to emphasis vaccines so as to stop people from catching diseases caused by bacteria that are now resistant to most medicines,” says Kariuki of the Kenya Medical Research institute.

A statement released by the World Health Organization to coincide with the immunization week, says for example some tuberculosis strains have become almost impossible to treat despite an effective vaccine.

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