President Mwai Kibaki Monday officially launched the pneumococcal vaccine that will immunize children in the country against pneumonia, the second largest killer of children below five years. Speaking during the launch at Kenyatta International Conference Centre, Kibaki reaffirmed that his Government will provide the life-saving vaccine free of charge to every child less than one year old in all public health facilities.
“I am pleased to announce that the Government is committed to making this programme sustainable notwithstanding its cost,” President Kibaki said.
The President assured Kenyans that his Government will also provide the vaccine to recognized immunization centers in faith-based and private health facilities to make it more accessible to all Kenyans.
President Kibaki underscored the importance of the pneumonia vaccine and expressed confidence that the life expectancy of young Kenyans will improve.
Said the President: “In addition, the work load at health facilities occasioned by managing numerous cases of childhood pneumonia, will reduce over the years resulting in cost savings.”
In this regard, President Kibaki urged all parents to ensure that their children aged below one year receive the vaccine.
Said President Kibaki: “They should also ensure that the children get all the other vaccines which the Government offers free of charge.”
President Kibaki emphasized that the new vaccine is an addition to the current schedule of vaccines administered to babies shortly after birth.
On their part, the President said, Kenyans should contribute to the prevention of deaths from pneumonia by reducing indoor air pollution, hand washing with soap, exclusive breastfeeding and good nutrition.
Said President Kibaki: “Similarly, parents should promptly seek medical care when children develop coughs or experience breathing difficulties.”
Acknowledging that one in every five deaths among children in the country is attributed to pneumonia, the President said it was reassuring that the disease could be prevented if appropriate measures such as immunization were taken. “This is why the Government negotiated with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization for a 3.2 billion shillings annual grant for the supply of this new vaccine over a period of five years,” President Kibaki said.
Under the agreement with the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization, President Kibaki said the Government will be contributing Kshs 72 million annually in incremental amounts towards the immunization programme for the next five years.
The President reiterated that Kenya is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Millennium Development Goals among them Goal number 4 which targets the reduction of infant and child mortality by two-thirds by the year 2015.
In this connection, the Head of State said his Government has put in place a number of interventions geared towards the achievement of this target including immunization and integrated management of childhood diseases such as malaria, pneumonia, diarrohea, malnutrition and anemia.
Other measures, the President said, include the establishment of a model health centre in all constituencies across the country focusing on maternal and child health under the Economic Stimulus Programme.
President Kibaki said the Government also employed 20 nurses last year for each model health centre in all constituencies, adding that this year 15 nurses, five public health officers and 10 community health workers in every constituency in the country were also employed.
In addition, the President said his Government has provided five motorcycles and 10 bicycles for every model health facility to facilitate the mobility of health workers especially in outreach activities such as immunization.
As a result of the measures taken by the Government, President Kibaki observed that the country has recorded remarkable progress with infant mortality rates dropping from 74 per 1000 live births to 52 per 1000 live births in 2008.
The President said for children under five, mortality rates also dropped from 115 per 1000 live births in 2003 to 77 per 1000 live births in 2008.
“Within the same period, the coverage for children fully immunized by their second birthday improved from 57 per cent to 77 percent. We are still working towards the attainment of universal coverage of immunization in all parts of the country,” President Kibaki said.
Speaking during the occasion, Public Health and Sanitation Minister Beth Mugo affirmed the Government’s commitment to continue providing nationwide infant immunization programmes to eradicate the childhood killer diseases.
The Minister observed that due to the concerted efforts, a whole generation of Kenyan children has been spared the horrible experience of measles and polio.
On storage of vaccines, Mrs Mugo said the regional capacity has been increased with the establishment of three more new depots at Garissa, Kakamega and Meru bringing to eight the number of depots in the country.
The depots have allowed easier access to vaccines by the neighbouring districts, the Minister said, adding that the Government has installed refrigeration equipment in the 500 new health facilities constructed through the Constituency Development Fund (CDF).
Other speakers included the Global Alliance for Vaccine and Immunization (GAVI) representative Mr. Simon Blandi and World Health Organization Assistant Regional Director Dr. Matshidiso Moeti among others.
In attendance were Public Service Minister who is also acting Minister for Medical Services Mr. Dalmas Otieno, the GAVI Alliance Chief Executive Officer Ms Helen Evans, representatives of other participating partners, several Assistant Ministers, Members of Parliament and senior Government officials.