Sierra Leone

One simple jab, millions of lives saved

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One simple jab, millions of lives saved

As his four-year-old sister looks on, five-month-old Mohamed Kamara is about to get his second dose of pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. Although he doesn't know it, this vaccine will protect him from pneumococcal disease, the leading cause of pneumonia and the major cause of meningitis.Baby Mohamed Kamara and his family.

Pneumonia is one of the world's biggest killers of small children. In Sierra Leone, where Mohamed and his family live, it is responsible for around a fifth of child deaths.

But the vaccine that Mohamed is receiving offers a simple and cost effective solution which could save the lives of millions of children.

In the Jembe Community Health Centre in Bo district, Mohamed's mother, Mamie, is relieved her son will be protected by the new vaccine. "I have seen children with the fast breathing," she says, referring to the common description of pneumonia here. "I do not want my son to get sick with it." Free from threat

Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries in the world. Although real progress has been made since the civil war ended ten years ago, poverty is high and healthcare is basic. These factors come together with deadly results for young children.

Pneumococcal vaccines were introduced in Sierra Leone at the start of 2011 with Health worker Usman Abdull Rashid. Picture: Doune Porter/GAVI Alliancethe support of the GAVI Alliance and UK aid.

Community Health Officer Usman Abdull Rashid is the head of the Jembe Health Centre where Mohamed is getting vaccinated.

"The primary diseases that children come to the clinic with are acute respiratory tract infection or pneumonia, diarrhoea, malaria and malnutrition," he says.

"Children die faster from pneumonia and diarrhoea. This is very, very common in our setting. It is good that we have introduced pneumococcal vaccines, which will reduce death and illness from pneumonia… and help us to save the lives of children." The price of a cup of coffee

Every year, two million children like Mohamed die of diseases that could be prevented by immunisation. That's one child every 20 seconds.

But vaccinations offer a simple, cost-effective solution to this problem. For the price of a cup of coffee a child can be vaccinated against five of the major childhood killers, including hepatitis B, diphtheria and tetanus. A global response

Vaccinations are proof that well spent aid can have a transformative effect on people's lives. That's why the UK is driving a major global push to vaccinate a quarter of a billion children by 2015.

UK aid is a key supporter of the GAVI Alliance and UK funding to the organisation has already helped to vaccinate more than 55 million children worldwide and save over a million lives.Kadiatu Bassie. Picture: Doune Porter/GAVI Alliance

But the scale of the problem requires a collective response. Donor countries, developing nations, charities, civil society and the vaccine suppliers themselves must come together to take action and make a real impact on child mortality. Protecting your child

Back at the Jembe Community Health Centre in southern Sierra Leone, new mother Kadiatu Bassie holds three-month-old Mamie in her arms.

Like Mohamed, baby Mamie has just been vaccinated against pneumococcal disease.

Kadiatu already knows the dangers that children face if they're not vaccinated – she lost a son to pneumonia two years ago. But now that the new vaccine has been introduced, she has the chance to protect her children.

"I live close to the clinic," she says. "But no matter how far away I lived, I would be happy to walk to get my baby vaccinated."

Facts and stats

The GAVI Alliance is a public-private global health partnership, created in 2000 to save children's lives and protect people's health by increasing access to immunisation in the world's poorest countries.

GAVI has vaccinated more than 280 million children and saved over five million lives since 2000.

DFID's Multilateral Aid Review assessed GAVI to be one of the top performing international agencies, demonstrating excellent value for money, tangible results and strong cost control.

Each year, more than 1.2 million children under five die of pneumonia in Africa and Southeast Asian countries.

An African child is 430 times more at risk of dying from pneumonia than a child in the European Union.

In Sierra Leone, GAVI have introduced a yellow fever vaccine, a pentavalent vaccine (which protects against diphtheria, whooping chough, tetanus, hepatitis-B and haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) disease), strengthened the health care system and improved immunisation services.