"It is very worrying that a high number of our children die before their fifth birthday. Sadly, many of these deaths are caused by diseases that are vaccine-preventable," said Minister of Health Dr Aaron Motsoaledi. He was announcing the department's catch-up immunisation drive, which runs until the end of May.
It is estimated that more than a million children under the age of five die from pneumococcal disease every year. To help reduce child mortality, the Department of Health urges parents and caregivers to take their children to be immunised against pneumococcal diseases.
The department, in collaboration with the private sector, started a four-month immunisation campaign called the “PCV13 Catch-Up Drive”. It is aimed at providing children under the age of five with an additional dose of the PCV13 pneumococcal vaccine until the end of May.
What is pneumococcal disease?
Pneumococcal disease describes a group of illnesses caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumoniae, also known as pneumococcus.
Streptococcus pneumoniae can cause meningitis (infection of the lining of the brain), pneumonia (infection of the lung), bacteraemia (blood infection), sinusitis, as well as otitis media (infection of the middle ear).
The additional dose of PCV13 vaccine will be provided to the targeted children in two groups.
- The first group includes children between the ages of 18 months and 36 months.
- The second group includes children with underlying medical conditions, including those infected with HIV, cardiac conditions, those who are on cytotoxic medication and those with no spleen and other similar conditions.
Protection for many
The pneumococcal vaccine provides protection not only for the targeted children, but also for many others who are not vaccinated. Through reducing carriage of the bacterium in the blood, it protects the elderly, adults with heart and immune-compromising conditions and those who are HIV infected.
Dr Motsoaledi expressed the importance of children to be immunised as part of dealing with the high infant and child mortality in our country.
The department therefore encourages all parents and caregivers to take their children to facilities to be vaccinated and ensure that they are up to date with their immunisation.