By Taddeo Bwambale
The Government has started distributing the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) to prevent pneumonia among children below the age of five.
The first batch of the vaccine was delivered in the country on December 23, 2013 and distribution started on January 14, according to the ministry of health.
A total of 94 districts will receive the vaccine, having satisfied the requirements set by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).
Government launched free pneumonia vaccination in April last year and included it on the country’s list of vaccines for routine immunisation.
The PCV vaccine offers children protection against pneumonia and some forms of Meningitis.
Addressing journalists on Friday, state minister for primary healthcare Sarah Opendi said 18 districts did not meet the criteria after an 8-month country assessment.
Districts are required to have trained health workers to handle vaccines, functional cold chains to minimise stock outs, refrigerators to monitor vaccine temperatures and monitoring tools.
The districts that have not yet satisfied the criteria are: Kampala, Sheema, Gulu, Nakaseke, Kayunga, Mpigi, Mbarara, Mitooma, Yumbe, Adjumani, Soroti, Moyo, Mbale, Alebtong, Bundibugyo and Hoima.
The minister said efforts were underway to ensure that appropriate facilities are in place so that the remaining districts can receive vaccine supplies in February.
The WHO Country Representative, Dr. Wondimagegnehu Alemu said the agency would not approve shipment of the vaccines to districts that have not met the required criteria.
The first consignment of 500,000 doses was delivered to the National Medical Stores and the next delivery of 250,000 doses arrives in March. The vaccines were procured at a cost of about sh8b, with half of the sum provided by GAVI.
The introduction of the PCV vaccine is part of attempts to improve the country’s immunisation coverage previously estimated at only 52%.
Opendi said a recent survey had shown that coverage had significantly improved to 90%, following an intense campaign launched in 2013.
The roll out of the new vaccine is also expected to lower the high infant mortality rate in the country, currently estimated at 90 deaths per 1,000 births.
The director of health services, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng said the vaccine was safe and appealed to parents to take their children for immunisation.
The PCV vaccine will be administered alongside other childhood vaccines against tuberculosis, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, influenza B and measles.
The PCV vaccine will be administered as an injection on the upper part of the right thigh to babies at three intervals when they are six weeks old, then at 10 weeks of age and at 14 weeks.
The introduction of the PCV vaccine will save the lives of over 10,000 children and sh2.5b annually in direct medical costs, according to the health ministry.
Pneumonia is the second biggest killer of children under the age of five in Uganda, after malaria.
WHO estimates that pneumonia kills about 1.6 million children under the age of five annually and accounts for 18% of all deaths of children under the age of five.