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Combating pneumonia in infants

By Pearl Natamba

Health minister to launch programme as part of Africa Vaccination Week

A little baby boy coughs like he is about to lose his breath and die. His mother grows more desperate and weary as she struggles to comfort the coughing boy. The mother and son are lying next to each other on a bed in one of the wards at the Uganda Heart Institute at the Mulago National Referral Hospital in Kampala.

He has pneumonia,” says his mother, Lydia Nakamwe. The boy who is struggling for his life is just five months old.

His mother explains:  ‘’I woke up one morning and my baby was coughing and breathing heavily, I immediately rushed her  to Heart Institute Uganda with the fear that he had a problem with his heart but the doctors there said that he was suffering from pneumonia.”

She says her baby has difficulty breathing while coughing.

“It terrifies me a lot because every time my baby coughs, I feel the pain in my chest”.

Nakamwe’s baby is one of many infants in Uganda who suffer from the deadly pneumonia, a disease that spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets when one coughs or sneezes.

Medical researchers say the pneumococcal disease is caused by an infection with either viruses or bacteria called streptococcus pneumonia. It also causes disturbing infections like middle ear infections, sinus infections, bacteremia, and meningitis.

Mulago Hospital has, according to its statistics, been receives an increasing number of infants suffering from pneumonia.  Up to 10 percent of these die.

There is now hope, however, that the disease can be prevented using a vaccine called Pneumococcal conjugate Vaccine, Synflorix (PVC 10) that is to be introduced at Mulago and other government hospitals.

At a meeting she addressed with the Ministry of health officials and the Parliamentary Forum for Children at the Golf Course Hotel in Kampala on April 11, Health Minister Christine Ondoa announced that the PVC 10 vaccine will be launched on April 27 in Iganga District in eastern Uganda.

The launch will be part of the activities of the third African Vaccination Week (AVW), an initiative led by the World Health Organization (WHO). The theme of this year’s AVW is `Save lives. Prevent disabilities. Vaccinate.’ The PCV has now become part of the national routine immunisation schedule.

The vaccine is to be administered intramuscularly as a 0.5 mL dose on either the arm or the thigh to infants aged between six weeks to two years.   Until now only private Hospitals like Princeton Children’s Medical Centre have been administering the vaccine at Shs 100,000 per child.

“The vaccine seems not to only prevent pneumonia but also prevent a very bad disease common in children called bacteremia,” says Dr Flavia Katamba.

She explained that Princeton buys the vaccine from Nairobi where it has already been used and is successful.

Government medical facilities have not had the vaccine since the funds for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) donated to Uganda for treatment of children infected with HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis were misused.  Recently, however, GAVI has given Uganda US$21 million (Approx. Shs 54.6 billion) to support immunization programmes in the country.

Mulago Hospital Pnuemonia Records 2009 to 2012

Financial Year Number of Patients Male Number of Patients Female Number of Deaths Male Number of Deaths Female
July 2009 – June 2010 1,822 1,755 101 88
July 2010 – June 2011 1,769 1,407 91 67
July 2011 – June 2012 1,917 1,538 99 77

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