Ghana pioneers new child vaccines

A mother sits next to her daughter who is in hospital with malaria and diarrhoea, 25 April 2012 Around one in five of Ghana's under-fives die from diarrhoea and pneumonia each year

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Ghana has become the first country in Africa to start protecting children against two of the continent's deadliest infant diseases with simultaneous vaccinations.

Rotavirus, which causes diarrhoea, and pneumococcal disease kill more than 2.7 million children worldwide each year.

The project is backed by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation.

At the launch health minister Alban Bagbin said the programme marked a "major fight-back".

"Our children have been dying from these vaccine-preventable diseases for too long," he said.

When combined with existing programmes against polio, measles and tuberculosis, Mr Bagbin said Ghana is on track to meet its target to cut childhood mortality by two-thirds by 2015.

'Tackling largest killers'

The chief executive of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (Gavi), Dr Seth Berkley, told the BBC the combined treatment has become possible thanks to adequate health facilities in Ghana, combined with sufficient stocks of vaccine, and robust international funding.

"[The programme] gets these vaccines together out to people who need them, and you can do one large social mobilisation to try to get the population to understand that we're tackling these two largest killers," Dr Berkley said.

Last year Gavi the secured supplies of the vaccines from major pharmaceutical companies at a large discount.

The organisation brings together the World Health Organisation, the UN's children's charity Unicef, the World Bank, vaccine companies and the charity set up by the Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

The start of the Ghana programme comes during what the WHO has described as World Immunisation Week.

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