|- "Call to Action" urges public, private participation
Watch the press briefings on the conference!
December 13, 2007 (SEOUL, KOREA) – The International Vaccine Institute (IVI), the GAVI Alliance´s pneumoADIP and the Sabin Vaccine Institute today convened a summit with experts, policymakers and opinion leaders from more than 20 countries from the Asia Pacific Region to develop solutions to expand vaccination programs to combat pneumococcal disease, a major killer of children and adults in the Asia-Pacific region.
According to the WHO, pneumococcal disease claims up to 1.6 million lives worldwide annually, including up to one million children under five years of age, a majority of them living in Asia and Africa. Five of the top ten countries with the highest burden of pneumococcal disease are in Asia: Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia and Pakistan. Pneumococcal disease, which includes pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis (blood poisoning) and ear infections, is becoming an increasing threat worldwide. Antibiotic-resistant infections are widespread and pneumococcal pneumonia frequently follows influenza infections, making it more likely to occur in the event of an influenza pandemic.
"Here in the Asia-Pacific region, we still have a long way to go in addressing pneumococcal disease," said Dr. Luis Jodar, Deputy Director-General of the IVI. "This symposium is a necessary step if we are to raise awareness among governments and the general public about the magnitude of this dreadful disease. We hope that this unprecedented gathering of regional leadership will enable all of us to find creative ways to expand pneumococcal vaccination across the region"
According to the report "Pneumonia: The Forgotten Killer of Children" published by WHO/UNICEF in 2006, more than half of all pneumonia cases worldwide occur in the Asia-Pacific region. Of the 133 million childhood pneumonia cases around the world in 2005, India accounted for 44 million and China accounted for 18 million. It is estimated that about 50 percent of all child pneumonia deaths are caused by the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacterium, commonly known as pneumococcus.
IVI has already begun joint efforts with the DRPK by sponsoring and organizing a study tour for DPRK vaccine professionals. The tour took six scientists from the Academy of Medical Sciences (AMS) to leading public health and vaccine institutions in China and Vietnam from May 13 to 25, and focused on the prevention and diagnosis of Hib and JE.
"Pediatricians like myself have been dealing with the human consequences of pneumococcal disease for years," said Professor Ron Dagan, President, World Society for Pediatric Infectious Diseases. "After treating thousands of patients, I’m pleased that we´re finally to the point where we can offer safe, effective protection by vaccination."
A pneumococcal conjugate vaccine that protects against seven of the most common serotypes is currently available. Over 15 countries in North America, Latin America, Oceania, Europe and the Middle East have already introduced the vaccine and are showing a drastic reduction in the incidence of this disease. Many African Governments have also expressed interest in the deployment of these vaccines, based on promises of long-term financial assistance from international donors.
In contrast, countries in the Asia Pacific Region with the exception of Australia and New Zealand have been more reluctant to adopt these vaccines in their immunization programs. This symposium is addressing the many reasons for the delay of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines to be rapidly deployed as tools in Asian countries. The true burden of pneumococcus, the uncertainties about distribution of pneumococcal serotypes and feasibility and impact of introducing pneumococcal vaccines in immunization programs are all topics that will be addressed by opinion leaders from participating Asia-Pacific countries.
Added Orin Levine, Executive Director of GAVI´s PneumoADIP, "This is a crucial time for millions of children in the Asia-Pacific region. Thanks to the GAVI Alliance and donors to the Advance Market Commitment we now have the opportunity to break with the historical delays of the past and speed life-saving pneumococcal vaccines to all children, everywhere. Beginning with this symposium, a coordinated regional effort to introduce pneumococcal vaccines could make childhood pneumococcal disease virtually unheard of in the Asia-Pacific region in the next few years."