THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 29, 2016

Somalian children to receive new five-in-one vaccine

Somalian health authorities launched a new five-in-one vaccine on Wednesday that protects against multiple potentially fatal childhood diseases and could save the lives of thousands of children.

The pentavalent vaccine protects against Haemophilus influenzae type B, hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. The vaccine will become a part of Somalia's routine immunization program. The launch of the vaccine in Hargeisa, Garowe and Mogadishu will be attended by leading government officials and representatives from the World Health Organization, the U.N. Children's Fund and the GAVI Alliance.

"Somalia has one of the lowest immunization rates in the world," Seth Berkley, the CEO of the GAVI Alliance, said. "The country's health system has been destroyed after more than 20 years of conflict and thousands of children are not protected against major killer diseases. This situation is unacceptable and that's why GAVI and its donors have committed substantial funding to Somalia until 2016."

More than 1.3 million doses of the pentavalent vaccine were provided to Somalia for 2013 to immunize children under one year of age. The vaccines will be delivered to the 425,000 children born annually in Somalia using existing health structures and community health workers. Each child will receive three vaccine doses.

The launch of the vaccine will be accompanied by an outreach campaign to make parents aware of the importance of the new vaccine. The pentavalent vaccine replaces the DTP vaccine for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. According to a recent survey conducted by UNICEF, only seven percent of children in Garowe and 11 percent of children in Hargeisa received the required three doses of DTP by the time they turned one.

"It is crucial that this vaccine reaches every Somali child in the country," Sikander Khan, UNICEF's Somalia representative, said. "We urge all parents, community, traditional and religious leaders to participate in the immunization activity, to ensure all children of Somalia can benefit from the protection offered."

Somalia is the 71st GAVI-eligible country to introduce the pentavalent vaccine. By the close of 2014, all 73 GAVI-eligible countries will have introduced the vaccine.