Health Ministry, MRC on Impact of Pneumococcal Surveillance Project

By Rohey Jadama

The Ministry of Health and Social Welfare and Medical Research Council (MRC) have on Friday, 4 March, 2016 briefed the press on the Impact of the  Pneumococcal Surveillance project at the Health Promotion Directorate in Kotu.

The briefing was meant to share information for a wider dissemination to the general public on the impact of the introduction of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines (PCV) on severe pneumococcal pneumonia, Sepsis and meningitis study conducted by the government of the Gambia, through the ministry of health and social welfare, and the MRC which was conducted over an eight year period in the Upper River Region.

Addressing the media, Mr. Omar Sey, the Minister of Health and Social Welfare, said pneumonia is a form of acute respiratory infection that affects the lungs, making breathing painful and limiting oxygen intake. He said pneumonia affects children and families everywhere but almost all deaths from it occur in poor or rural communities and it is the biggest killer of children under age 5 years worldwide.

“Globally, more than two thousand five hundred children under age five die of pneumonia every day, which is close to one million each year. This is nearly 1 in 6 of the total deaths in this age group and most of these deaths are entirely preventable. Over three-quarters of children who die from pneumonia live in Africa or Southeast Asia and the Gambia is no exception. Moreover, this is preventable and treatable illness through cost-effective and sustainable child survival and development intervention such as immunization, integrated management of childhood and illness (IMNCI) strategy, and improved child care, sanitation and hygiene practices at household levels,”, said Mr. Sey.

The health minister added that according to the statistics of Health Management Information System of his ministry, forty one thousand eight hundred and forty one (41,841) children under the age of five were diagnosed of pneumonia at the outpatient clinics in the Gambia between the periods October 2014 to September 2015. “Out of these cases, five thousand three hundred and five (5,305) children were admitted at the in- patient clinic for severe pneumonia and one hundred and nineteen (119) of these children later ended up dying,” he revealed.

On the pneumococcal vaccine impact study, the health minister said it enrolled 14,650 patients and showed that use of PCV in the Gambian EPI reduced severe pneumococcal, Sepsis, Meningitis in children by 55%.  He said evidence has shown that the Gambian PCV programme reduced the incidence of invasive pneumococcal disease in children aged 2-59 months by 55%, adding that this figure is indeed encouraging for the National EPI program.

Professor Omberto, the MRC Unit Director, said the results are extremely good and the introduction of the vaccine was based on the information that they have and which shows the fact that decision must be based on information available and that is what the ministry of health is doing.

The MRC Unit Director said he has been involved in meetings with the ministry of health on the committee that did the study and that the interaction was really great. He added that the meaning of this result is not only for the Gambia but sub-Saharan Africa because it is the first study of this kind in sub-Saharan Africa.

Professor Omberto said this result will help in developing health policies at both the international and continental levels on the decision of introducing this vaccine in their own country and also this study contributes significantly in improving health in other African countries.

For his part, Dr. Grant Mackenzie, the principal Investigator for PSP, said the government is responsible and the MRC project comes along with nurses and doctors working hand in hand with the government staff around the vaccine area, adding that they are just providing care to the sick and making the diagnosis.

Dr. Makenzie said they have involved forty to fifty thousand patients and had tried to help in providing good diagnosis to provide good treatment to all of them. He said the nurses were really happy for helping their own people in this project. “We provided machines such as X-ray machines and oxygen machines and other related health care equipment,” he added.

The principal investigator  added that pneumococcal disease is a very severe disease in that it can get into your blood, lungs and brain and that one out of seven children who get the disease will die. He said they found out from a study that it costs government $80 to provide drugs. “So preventing pneumococcal diseases will help to reduce expenditure,” he noted.

Speaking earlier, Mr. Dawda Sowe, the Programme Manager, Expanded Programme on Immunisation (EPI), said since the introduction of the pneumococcal vaccine into the routine EPI in 2009, they have seen that the incidence of pneumococcal diseases has substantially reduced and that the effectiveness of the vaccine is highly commendable.

Mr. Sowe described this as a milestone not only in the health sector but in reducing morbidity and mortality of pneumococcal diseases.