Thought Leadership

The good news, the bad news…and some hope

2 Mins read

Last week I was at the annual conference of the European Society of Pediatric Infectious Disease in Brussels.

There was a buzz in the room as the new tools available in our arsenal to do battle with our microbial competitors in our ecosystem were discussed. In addition to cutting edge new drugs, there were some papers that were amazing not for their science but for their implementation. One of particular interest was by Dr Pettit of the University of Geneva Hospital who showed how through several “simple” but meticulously implemented measures as like hand-washing,are able to push down the rate of hospital acquired infections, saving lives and saving money. I thought back to my time working at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital Enugu and our struggle to get running water. I think of the efforts of students pouring water over the surgeons hands from a bucket as he prepared for surgery, to then imagine that this is the premier tertiary health facility in Eastern Nigeria…goose pimples emerge at the thought of what the effects are. Health care associated infections is an area we have not even scratched in Nigeria…so Ill not bore you.

So…guess what are the two biggest vaccine-preventable diseases which together account for more than 35% of all child deaths every year, the majority of which are in the developing world.

….no …not measles, meningitis, diptheria….

….no not TB

The two are “diarrhoeal disease” and “pneumonia

The good news – What I will share with you is the availability of two “new” vaccines. They are not really new, but their impact on the lives of children is just becoming obvious.

1. A vaccine has been included in the routine vaccination schedule against 10 subtypes of the bacteria – pneumococcus, the most common cause of pneumonia in children, but also a cause of meningitis and sepsis in many developed countries. A 7-valent vaccine has been available for some years now. WHO has issued a recommendation for the introduction of pneumococcal vaccines into immunization programs in developing countries to save millions of lives, starting with the currently available 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine.

One African country has added the pneumococcal vaccine to its schedule: Rwanda. Several others have plans in advanced stages…for details look here….and sorry Nigeria is NOT one of them!

2. A new vaccine against the rotavirus, already widely used in many parts of the world, including most of Latin America has now been shown to work effectively in African settings too following studies conducted in Malawi and South Africa. On the 5th of June during the ESPID conference last week in Brussels, the World Health Organisation recommended the global use of the rota virus vaccine.

These new vaccines bring real hope to millions of children in Africa, sadly not yet ours. The agency responsible for delivering on immunisation in Nigeria as been in the wilderness for years, with neither the will nor the leadership to deliver on its mandate. We have barely been able to deliver the primary vaccines that have been on our schedule for years.

But now with new leadership (more on this in future posts) at National Primary Health Care Development Agency, the agency responsible for immunisation in Nigeria there is renewed hope. The agency is working towards to re-defining itself and to restore some of the legacies of Professor Kuti and protect the lives of the most vulnerable. For now, these kids will continue to die from pneumococcal disease…just because they were born in Nigeria and not Rwanda! What a turn of events!

Meanwhile…see here my means of transport in Brussels….lovely city!

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has…Margaret Mead

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