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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- International experts in the fields of health and infectious diseases have joined forces to raise awareness and encourage global prevention of pneumococcal disease, the world's leading vaccine-preventable killer of children and adults worldwide.
The Pneumococcal Awareness Council of Experts (PACE), a project of the Sabin Vaccine Institute, is a multi-year effort to urge policy-makers to ensure access to new life-saving vaccines to those most at risk. The launch of PACE follows the recent commitment of more than $1.5 billion in financing for pneumococcal vaccines. In February, five nations and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed $1.5 billion to launch the first Advance Market Commitment (AMC) to help speed the development and availability of new vaccines.
"We now have a critical piece in the equation to prevent this disease," said Dr. Ciro A. de Quadros, director of international programs at the Sabin Vaccine Institute and co-chairman of PACE, who has led successful efforts to end polio and measles from the Western Hemisphere during his 40-year medical career. "Now, we must raise awareness of the need for the vaccine and this unprecedented opportunity to save millions of lives."
Pneumococcal disease is a bacterial infection that causes pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis and other life-threatening ailments. It kills 1.6 million people -- including more than 800,000 children under age five -- annually.
de Quadros estimates that with increased awareness and a resulting commitment to purchase and deliver pneumococcal vaccines, 5.4 million children's lives can be saved by 2030.
Dr. Orin Levine, executive director of the GAVI's PneumoADIP and co-chairman of PACE, said another reason for urgency is that current methods of treatment are growing weaker.
"Pneumococcal infections are becoming more difficult to treat as bacteria become resistant to some commonly used antibiotics," Levine said in calling for a comprehensive global plan for vaccine development and distribution.
"By encouraging professional societies, policy-makers and key health and financial decision-makers to make pneumococcal disease prevention a priority, our aim is to help save millions of lives," Levine said.
Survivors of pneumococcal meningitis can be left with serious disabilities, including cerebral palsy, epilepsy, brain damage, kidney disease, deafness, limb amputations and developmental delays.Â
The disease takes a disproportionate toll in developing countries. More than 150 million cases of pneumonia occur every year among children under five in developing countries, accounting for more than 95 percent of all new cases worldwide.
The first Latin American country to implement a nationwide vaccination program is Costa Rica. Costa Rica's Health Minister, Dr. Maria Luisa Avila, received an award on behalf of the Ministry of Health at Monday's launch for her country's pioneering work in saving lives through immunization.
Safe and effective vaccines currently exist to prevent pneumococcal deaths in children and adults. In 2000, a new 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7) became available and is currently in use in over 70 countries. Since U.S. infants began receiving routine pneumococcal conjugate vaccination in 2000, the country has nearly eliminated childhood pneumococcal disease caused by vaccine serotypes.
Currently, 10- and 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine formulations are in late stages of development and could be available in the next two years. These conjugate vaccines are expected to prevent 50-80 percent of all serious pneumococcal infections worldwide.
Source: Pneumococcal Awareness Council of Experts