ASAP LAUNCHED TO FIGHT PNEUMOCOCCAL DISEASE

GOP URGED TO INCLUDE PNEUMOCOCCAL VACCINE IN NATIONAL IMMUNIZATION PROGRAMME

KANWAL SALEEM
Nov 17 - 23, 2008

Asian Strategic Alliance for Pneumococcal Disease Prevention (ASAP) Pakistan Chapter has been formally launched to fight out Pneumococcal disease, which is on rise in the Asian countries due to many reasons.

Addressing on the occasion, Pakistani and foreign health professionals asked the Government of Pakistan (GoP) to include Pneumococcal Vaccine (PCV-7) in National Immunization Programme so as to check the mortality of children due Pneumococcal disease (PD). They disclosed that the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified the inclusion of PCV-7 in national immunization programmes as a priority particularly in countries where the mortality rate of children under 5-year is greater than 50/1000 live births, or where more than 50,000 die annually.

It may be mentioned that Pneumococcal disease, which also includes meningitis, pneumonia, bacteremia and acute otitis media, is estimated to result in up to 1 million deaths each year in children, most of whom are in developing countries.

Many health authorities have already recognized the importance of protecting infants and young children against PD. The PCV-7 is available in nearly 100 countries and is part of the routine national childhood immunization schedule in around 30 countries worldwide.

Currently, the Pneumococcal Conjugated Vaccine or PCV-7 is the first and only vaccine to prevent invasive Pneumococcal disease in infants and children younger than 24 months. It also helps to protect older children up to 9 years old. PCV-7 is used for active immunization and helps to protect against disease caused by seven serotypes (strains) of the bacterium Streptococcus Pneumonia, also known as Pneumococcus, they added.

They maintained that Pneumococcal disease is one of the most infectious killer diseases today. "Tragically, between 800,000 and 1 million children below five years old die as a result of PD each year. Every hour that ticks by between 80 and 112 children die by the hand of this killer disease or roughly between 1900 and 2,700 child deaths a day around the world," they said. In developing countries around the world, PD is also considered one of the most important causes of children's death, they added.

Prof Iqbal Memon, Convenor ASAP, Pakistan Chapter said: "As doctors and parents, we know the devastating impact the death of a child has on everyone. But you might not be able to feel the pain and the loss, until it happens to your own child. We want to tell everyone that this situation is avoidable - Pneumococcal disease is preventable by vaccination".

''We strongly feel that if more parents, physicians, policy makers and decision makers know about the disease and its prevention, urgent steps will be taken to drastically reduce the disease burden. We appeal to the Government of Pakistan to adopt IPD Vaccination in National Immunization Programme to save millions of children from killer Pneumococcal disease'', he said.

Highlighting the objectives of ASAP, he said the ASAP wants to be the voice of our children, speaking up and looking out for them so that they can live longer and healthier lives. "Our formation is the call to action to raise the level of awareness of PD, facilitate the exchange of information and insights on the disease, propose solutions and push for more preventive measures to be taken," he said.

ASAP's mission is to contain and control Pneumococcal disease in the Asian region through awareness, surveillance, advocacy and prevention. Its objectives include: collating and disseminating available data on disease epidemiology within the region, creating awareness of Pneumococcal disease and the need for its prevention among professionals and the public, communicating and engaging with policymakers regarding the importance of Pneumococcal disease and its prevention, encouraging and supporting the surveillance of disease and generating consensus and evidence based medicine and the best clinical practices.

Speaking on the occasion Dr. Chok Wan Chan, President, International Pediatric Association said that Pediatricians, while specializing in providing healthcare and pediatric services to individual children within our community, are also called to advocate and support policies and programmes essential to the physical, emotional, mental, spiritual and social well being of our children. He hoped that ASAP's efforts would definitely be conducive towards our target of 'Healthy Children for a Healthy World'.

Professor Sanath P. Lamabadusuriya, President, Asian Pacific Pediatric Association said on the occasion that preventable infections are a major cause of death and disability in this region, particularly in South Asia. Acute respiratory infections of which Streptococcus pneumonia is a leading culprit and diarrhea viruses account for a major proportion of the deaths due to infectious disease in children.

Other speakers including Prof Zulfiqar Bhutta, Prof Ashraf Sultan, Dr.Nadeem Khawar, Prof Sajid Maqbool, Prof Salma Shaikh, Dr.Ijaz Khan said: Truly, there is no cause nobler than that of saving lives of our children who are our future.

The formation of ASAP is an exciting development but it is only a start. We hope more healthcare professionals, parents, policy makers, opinion leaders and those in positions of influence will join us and make a difference in the fight against this common killer of children, they added.