Increasing immunization rates and new vaccine offer hope for Ethiopian children

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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

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 3 April 2007 - 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.  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."

Hib and Hepatitis B
The Hib bacterium is the leading cause of meningitis in children and one of two major causes of severe childhood pneumonia. Pneumonia and meningitis caused by other bacteria such as the pneumococcus and meningococcus (which causes meningitis only) will not be prevented by Hib vaccine, but vaccines for these diseases will be available in the near future. 

Hepatitis B is a major cause of liver disease.  Other types of hepatitis can also cause disease, but vaccines are not available for these types in Ethiopia.

Federal Democratic Republic Ministry of Health of Ethiopia (MoH)
The Ministry of Health in Ethiopia is the federal administration for health and health related issues established in 1967, with a vision of maintaining healthy, productive and effective citizens in Ethiopia.    

World Health Organization (WHO)
The World Health Organization is the United Nations specialized agency for health. It was established on 7 April 1948. WHO's objective, as set out in its Constitution, is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health. Health is defined in WHO's Constitution as a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

The GAVI Alliance
An alliance of all the major stakeholders in immunization, the GAVI Alliance includes among its partners developing country and donor governments, the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF, the World Bank, the vaccine industry in both industrialized and developing countries, research and technical agencies, NGOs, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is estimated that more than 2.3 million early deaths will have been prevented as a result of support by GAVI up to the end of 2006. GAVI's efforts are critical to achieving the Millennium Development Goal on child health, which calls for reducing childhood mortality by two-thirds by 2015. Of the more than 10 million children who die before reaching their fifth birthday every year, 2.5 million die from diseases that could be prevented with currently available or new vaccines.

The Hib Initiative
Last year the GAVI Alliance launched a $37 million program called the Hib Initiative, which unites infectious disease experts from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and WHO to advance evidence-informed decision-making regarding the use of Hib vaccine in the developing world. An estimated 3 million cases of Hib disease occur each year in children under the age of 5 years, resulting in approximately 400,000 deaths.

For further information on Hib disease and pneumococcal disease or to arrange an interview with an expert, please contact:

World Health Organization, Ethiopia
Dr. Olusegun Babaniyi
Representative
Mobile: +251 911 202633
Email: babaniyio@et.afro.who.int
Website: www.who.int/countries/eth/

Federal Ministry of Health of Ethiopia
Dr. Tesfanesh Belay
Head, Family Health Department
Tel: +251 5 517011
Email: tesfaneshbelay@hotmail.com

Nicole King
Director, Communications
The GAVI Fund
Mobile: +1 202 297 2386
Email: nking@gavialliance.org
Website: www.gavialliance.org

Melinda Henry
Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals
World Health Organization (WHO)
Mobile: +41 22 791 2535
Email: henrym@who.int
Website: www.who.int

Lois Privor-Dumm, MIBS
Director, Communications Strategy
The Hib Initiative
Mobile: +1 484 354 8054
Email: lprivord@jhsph.edu

Georgina Pinnington
Consultant, Ruder Finn Communications
Tel: +44 20 7462 8932
Email: gpinnington@ruderfinn.co.uk

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