The Ministry of Health has introduced two new vaccines to make Ghanaian children healthier and help achieve Millennium Development Goal (MDGs) 4, which aims at reducing child mortality by two-thirds by 2015.
They are the pneumococcal and rotavirus vaccines, which protects children from pneumonia and diarrhoea respectively, in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) standards.
The rotavirus vaccine prevents severe diarrhoeal diseases, which come with signs and symptoms as fever, vomiting and shock, leading to death.
It is spread through the faeco-oral route and caused by eating or putting items contaminated with faeces into the mouth.
The vaccines are given in two doses, a month apart. The first is given when the child is six weeks old and the second dose at 10 weeks.
Mr Ministry announced the introduction of the vaccines at a media briefing.
Experts say its side effects are rare but few occurrences have been reported, which include diarrhoea, irritability/crying, fever and abdominal pains in rare cases.
When a child develops any of the symptoms it should be rushed to the nearest health facility.
Pneumonia on the other hand, is the single largest cause of death in children worldwide, more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined.
It is caused by the pneumoccous bacterium. The most common type of pneumococcal infections include middle ear infections, sinus infections, pneumonia and meningitis and spread through airborne droplet from cough or sneeze.
Its symptoms are rapid or difficult breathing, coughs, chills, loss of appetite and wheezing.
The vaccine is administered as an injection to infants in three doses, a month apart, on the right thigh. The schedule is six, 10 and 14 weeks.
All children are, therefore, eligible including the immune compromised children; children with minor illnesses are not contraindicated and can be vaccinated.
This represents an important advancement for public health in Ghana because children under five years, especially those between six months and two years are the most vulnerable to the disease,” Dr Kwadwo Odei Antwi-Agyei, National Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI) said at a press briefing in Accra to introduce the vaccines.
The vaccines have been made available to Ghana with the support of over 35 million dollars from GAVI Alliance, a global partnership dedicated to improving world health by ensuring access to immunisation in developing nations.
GAVI is working with governments in developing nations to build sustainable immunisation programmes and ensure access to affordable vaccines now and in the future.
Dr Antwi-Agyei explained that Ghana needed the vaccines because globally one-third of the over 1.3 million children deaths under five each year was due to rotavirus, while an estimated 1.4 million children under five die due to pneumococcal diseases.
In Ghana, diarrhoeal diseases are among the top three causes of death among children under five, he said, and explained that the vaccination is the most effective and cost effective way of dealing with the two diseases.
Dr Antwi-Agyei said countries that had introduced the vaccines had experienced major reduction in severe diarrhoeal and pneumococcal diseases.
There is tremendous potential of the vaccines to improve child health and save lives.
The WHO has, therefore, recommended the vaccines to be included in all national immunisation programmes, particularly, in countries where diarrhoeal diseases is a major problem.
In addition to vaccination, exclusive breast feeding for six months; adequate nutrition, frequent hand washing and good sanitation are key in protecting children.
“This is in a bid to ensure that all children living in Ghana have access to good health care.
Deputy Health Minister, Mr Rojo Mettle-Nunoo said there was the need for extensive education on the efficacy of the vaccines so that doubts were not created in the minds of the public to enable them to stop blaming such diseases on witches and wizards
He condemned the insanitary condition in the country and said sanitation was everyone’s business and not the government’s alone.
Mr Mettle-Nunoo expressed displeasure at landlords who were turning all available space for place of convenience into rooms and stores and called for the enforcement of sanitation bye-laws to nib the problem in the bud.
Acting Director General of Ghana Health Service, Dr Frank Nyonator, noted that vaccines were cost effective and that with the exception of providing good drinking water, no other health intervention was as effective as immunisation in reducing diseases and mortality rates.
He said Ghana Demographic and Health Survey (GDHS, 2008) showed a 31 per 1,000 reduction in under five mortality rate, as it declined from 111 per 1,000 live birth in 2003 to 80 per 1000 in 2008.
“Ghana is poised to achieve the MDGs 4 and the challenge is to reduce to less than 40 per 1,000 live births by 2015 and to achieve this we need to do everything differently. We definitely have to fight against under five mortality among, which are diarrhoea and pneumonia,” he said. GNA