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News from the Second Regional Pneumococcal Symposium São Paulo, Brazil

Armed With New Data, Health Leaders Across the Americas Vow To Fight Devastating Childhood Disease

Region, First To Tackle Pneumococcal Disease, Calls for Rapid, Widespread Introduction of an Advanced Childhood Vaccine

São Paulo, Brazil, 15 December 2006 (PAHO)—Health and policy leaders meeting today from dozens of countries across the Americas pledged to promote the adoption of a childhood vaccine to prevent a disease that kills two children every hour in Latin America and the Caribbean. Together with representatives of major donor and multilateral organizations and vaccine manufacturers, the 2nd Regional Pneumococcal Symposium vowed to "Make 2007 the year of action to combat pneumococcal disease in the Americas."

Their main tool will be vaccines. One conjugate vaccine is currently available that covers seven strains of the pneumococcal bacteria, and other vaccines should start to become available as soon as 2008, according to new advances reported at the Symposium. The current vaccine is widely used in the United States, where it has reduced pneumococcal disease by about 80 percent, said Cynthia Whitney of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This has in turn blocked transmission to the elderly, lowering disease and deaths in those over 65.

But the vaccine is barely used in Latin America, where scientists now know that pnuemococcus bacteria causes a minimum of 1.6 million cases of disease and 18,000 deaths a year, or two every hour.

"Health is vital to the development of nations," said Dr. Roberto Tapia, Mexico's former under-secretary of health. "This is a call to action, but action with passion."

Only two Latin American countries, Mexico and Brazil, have begun vaccination of children. Unable to afford enough vaccine for all the children in their country, they have begun by vaccinating some of the poorest and most high risk. In early 2006, Mexico began vaccinating children in the country's 14 poorest states, which are also those with the largest numbers of indigenous people. It began by vaccinating just 42,000 children, and has now reached 230,000 children, with plans expand further in 2007, said Mexico's Dr. Norma Matías Juan, head of pediatric infectology of the National Center for Child and Adolescent Health.

Brazil has also begun by vaccinating a small number of vulnerable children who have underlying medical problems, distributing 36,000 doses of the conjugate vaccine to such children in 2005. But this is a fraction of the 3.2 million children born in the country every year, explained Dr. Expedito Luna of the Brazilian Ministry of Health.

From these modest beginnings, conference participants pledged to find ways to make the conjugate vaccine widely available to all the children of the region, preventing about half of the deaths and disease caused by pneumococcus.

"We know what must be done in the future," said Dr. Ciro de Quadros, President of the Albert B. Sabin Vaccine Institute, concluding the conference. "It is now up to us advocate even more firmly with our health authorities. We have an important tool that will end half the death and disease caused by pneumococcus. The cost of inaction we can count in children's lives."

Among other things, the Symposium's Call to Action agreed to:

  • Promote adoption of pneumococcal vaccines wherever feasible;
  • Request that the World Health Organization expedite the prequalification of the existing vaccine so that it can be purchased by United Nations agencies;
  • Call upon the Pan American Health Organization and its Revolving Fund for the acquisition of vaccines to work with national governments, bilateral and multilateral agencies, the GAVI Alliance and the vaccine manufacturers to facilitate introduction of the vaccines.

Symposium participants noted that the Revolving Fund is a key mechanism for scaling up use of the vaccine. Unique in all the world, the Revolving Fund uses the power of bulk purchasing to negotiate the most affordable prices possible for 37 nations in Latin America and the Caribbean.

"The Revolving Fund is the best means at our disposal to scale up deployment of this vaccine across the entire Latin American continent," said Dr. Jon Andrus of PAHO. "Rapid and full scale- up will be the key to our success. It will not only save the lives of children, but also end disease and deaths among their parents and grandparents, who will no longer be as widely exposed to this common pathogen."

Representatives of the Americas agreed that the time for action is now.

"If we leave things as they have been done in the past, it will take until 2020 or beyond to get vaccines to poorest countries," said Dr. Orin Levine of the PneumoADIP at Johns Hopkins University. "Worldwide, we have the tools in hand to prevent up to one million deaths every year from pneumococcus. It is the single largest vaccine-preventable killer of children."

The Pan American Health Organization, regional office for the Americas of the World Health Organization, works with all the countries of the Americas to improve the health and raise the living standarts of their people.

For more information please contact , +1 631 836-3181, , PAHO Public Information, +1 202 316-5679.