Immunization, Vaccines and Biologicals

Liberia begins protecting its children against pneumococcal disease

Joint WHO/UNICEF/GAVI Alliance news release

Children across Liberia are now receiving protection against one of the leading vaccine-preventable killers of children as the country today celebrates the introduction of pneumococcal vaccine (PCV).

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was joined at the launch event, held at the JFK Medical Center in Monrovia, by representatives of the GAVI Alliance who provides the vaccines, cabinet ministers and senior politicians, representatives of the diplomatic corps, UNICEF, WHO, health workers, parents and babies.

Speaking at the event, President Sirleaf said, “Health is a priority for Liberia, and we are grateful for the support from partners to introduce this new vaccine. But the responsibility for delivering services to the population is with the country. Liberia is committed to allocate more resources to health including immunization”.

“Liberia has a most impressive story to share on the progress that can be made in immunization, and consequently child survival, in spite of the challenges facing the country as a result of their civil war,” said Helen Evans, Deputy CEO of the GAVI Alliance speaking at the launch event. “The introduction of this vaccine will further reduce the death and disability caused by pneumonia, specifically amongst children under the age of five who are most vulnerable.”

UNICEF Country Representative, Sheldon Yett said that the introduction of PCV is the best gift the Liberian government can give to its children. “Far too many children are dying from diseases that a simple injection could have prevented. UNICEF and WHO will continue to work with the government and other partners to improve immunization services and the introduction of additional vaccines,” he said.

Pneumococcal disease is a leading cause of pneumonia, which accounts for almost one fifth of deaths of children under five worldwide. In Liberia alone it is estimated that 7000 children die each year from pneumococcal disease (14% of the children in the age group).

Vaccinating all children, with particular emphasis on those hardest to reach, is one of the best public health investments a country can make. It provides an enormous return on investment, regardless of how it is measured, whether in terms of deaths averted, fewer illnesses or lower health costs, Yett added.

In 2014, the pneumonia vaccine will reach about 90% of children under one year old in Liberia (about 140,000 children), according to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. The pneumococcal vaccine will be a part of the national routine immunization programme.

Since 2010, GAVI Alliance funding has helped 38 developing countries roll out the pneumococcal vaccine. Liberia is the first to do so this year. More than 50 GAVI-eligible countries have been approved for Alliance support to introduce pneumococcal conjugate vaccine into their national immunization programmes.

UNICEF and WHO supports the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare in capacity building of health workers and procurement, installation and maintenance of cold chain equipment, programme monitoring and impact evaluation. The network of cold chain system in the country ensures equitable delivery of vaccine services to all children, including those hardest to reach.