A study of babies and infants admitted to public and private hospitals in the Karachi, Hyderabad and Matiari districts of Sindh has revealed that pneumococcal meningitis is life threatening and its after effects can dramatically impact the quality of a child’s life.
Pneumococcal bacteria are now the most common cause of bacterial meningitis in Sindh. Meningitis, an inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord, can occur because of a bacterial or viral infection; but bacteria cause the most severe cases.
Fifty-one children were diagnosed with pneumococcal meningitis at these hospitals, with 28 per cent dying at the hospital or home. Out of the survivors, almost three-quarters of the children suffered some damage to the brain and the nervous system resulting in delayed development, paralysis, epilepsy, and severe hearing and vision loss.
The results of the study, conducted by Aga Khan University (AKU) in collaboration with the federal Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), were shared by Dr Anita Zaidi, Professor and Chair, Department of Paediatrics and Child Health, AKU, while addressing an awareness session on pneumonia and pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV). Researchers initially assessed children at different hospitals in the three districts and six months later at AKU. The study was sponsored by the GAVI Alliance.
Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children worldwide. Fifteen countries account for nearly 75 per cent of child pneumonia worldwide with countries in South Asia, including Pakistan, amongst the most affected.
PCV protects children against deadly pneumonia and meningitis and is being included in the routine immunisation programme by the Government of Sindh from November 10. The campaign was launched in the federal capital and the Punjab on October 10, and it will be extended to the rest of the country early next year. With this launch, Pakistan is the first country in South Asia to introduce the pneumococcal vaccine in its national vaccination programme. The vaccine is available in the private sector but the three doses needed costs around Rs 13,000.
Dr Salma Sheikh talked about the volume of severe pneumonia and meningitis in young children at public hospitals. “While the new vaccine cannot prevent every single case of pneumonia, it does prevent a significant proportion of cases – so having the potential to save many thousands of lives from preventable sickness and death,” she said.
“Introduction of PCV in Pakistan’s EPI is a major achievement and it will prevent thousands of children from dying or being permanently maimed each year,” said Dr Zaidi. “Now it is our responsibility to deliver the vaccine to those who needed it most as increasing immunization coverage in poorest groups is essential to realize full benefit of preventing pneumonia.”
Addressing the session, Qadir Bux Abbasi, Monitoring and Evaluation Officer, EPI, Pakistan; Dr Bux Ali Patafi, District Health Officer, Hyderabad; Dr Zahoor Baloch, Additional Director, EPI, Sindh and Dr Salma Sheikh, Professor, Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences, Jamshoro, vowed to fight pneumonia and to deliver the vaccine to each and every child.
The session organised by AKU in collaboration with GAVI CSO Alliance Pakistan, and EPI, was well attended by local doctors, health workers, and community and media representatives. School children also presented a skit about pneumonia and pneumococcal vaccine.
Similar workshops were conducted in Thatta and Naushero Feroz recently and another one is to be held in Sukkur on November 1.
Fabeha Pervez, Media Executive, Department of Public Affairs, Aga Khan University, Stadium Road, Karachi, on +92 21 3486 2925 or firstname.lastname@example.org