REYKJAVIK, Iceland -- Nearly 1,000 of the world's leading experts in infectious diseases and vaccines are meeting during the 6th International Symposium on Pneumococci and Pneumococcal Diseases (ISPPD-6) this week to call for renewed and urgent action by governments to protect their citizens against pneumococcal disease, a leading killer of children and adults worldwide.
A bacterial infection that causes pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis and other life-threatening ailments, pneumococcal disease kills 1.6 million people -- including more than 800,000 children under age 5 -- each year. Estimates indicate that if implemented globally, pneumococcal vaccines could save the lives of 5.5 million by 2030.
"Safe, effective vaccines exist to prevent pneumococcal disease, and improved ones are expected in 2009," said Dr. Orin Levine, executive director of GAVI's PneumoADIP and co-chairman of the Pneumococcal Awareness Council of Experts (PACE). "We have the scientific knowledge and financial resources. What we need now is political will as the price of inaction will be measured in lives lost unnecessarily."
Leading health experts gathered for ISPPD-6, led by the Pneumococcal Awareness Council of Experts (PACE), issued a global call to action urging governments to take steps to make financing available to assure access to pneumococcal vaccines.
"By bringing NGOs, scientists, industry and health and financial decision makers at the country level together to make pneumococcal disease prevention a priority, our goal is to help save millions of lives," said Dr. Ciro de Quadros, executive vice president of the Sabin Vaccine Institute and co-chairman of PACE. "We encourage all parties involved to make the global commitments necessary to prevent this deadly disease."
Kenya is one country represented at the symposium that is currently working toward universal coverage through its vaccination program.
"In Kenya alone, we lose more than 20,000 children under age 5 each year to pneumococcal disease," said Dr. Fred Were, chairman of the Kenya Paediatric Association and member of PACE. "Current and future vaccines could potentially prevent 50 percent to 80 percent of these deaths. I'm proud that Kenya has made the decision to introduce this vaccine and to protect the lives and health of Kenyan children."
Pneumococcal vaccines have been available since 2000 to safely and effectively protect children and adults against pneumococcal infections. The 7-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV-7) is currently in use in more than 70 countries, and expanded protection pneumococcal conjugate vaccines currently in the late stages of development are expected to be licensed by 2009.