Ghana makes history with immunisation programme

Ghana has become the first African country to launch a double vaccination programme against rotavirus and pneumococcal diseases, two of the country’s principal infant killer diseases. Rotavirus is a severe form of diarrhoea while pneumococcal disease causes pneumonia, meningitis and sepsis.

Behind the historic national vaccination programme is Ghana's Expanded Programme on Immunisation, which decided that Ghanaian babies should be vaccinated against both diseases at the same time.

In Ghana the child mortality rate is extremely high, with some of the main causes of death coming from vaccine-preventable diseases. The last year with full available data is 2008 when over 54,000 Ghanaian children died under the age of five. About 20 per cent of those deaths were from pneumonia and diarrhoea, according to the country's public health officials.

The immunisation programme is subject to logistical difficulties such as keeping the vaccines chilled at the correct temperature in rural areas where there is often an unreliable electricity supply. There are also high costs associated with training healthcare workers, public awareness campaigns and the upgrading of millions of child health record cards.

The vaccines are made by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), Merck and Pfizer and are funded by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI) – a public-private partnership that funds bulk-buy vaccination programmes for poorer nations – and co-financed by the Ghanaian government.

Global financial services firm JP Morgan donated £1.5 million, matched by the UK through the GAVI Matching Fund, for a total contribution of £3 million to the campaign.

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