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Vaccinating for pneumonia in Liberia

Julius Kanubah in Monrovia / mcJanuary 15, 2014

Liberia has begun a campaign to vaccinate infants under the age of 12 months for pneumonia. Thousands of Liberian children died of the disease last year.

Liberia Catherine Browne mit Baby
Image: DW/J. Kanubah

At the Redemption Hospital in the Liberian capital Monrovia, Henrietta Fatoma, is waiting with her son Francis Harmon. "I brought him for vaccination," she told Deutsche Welle. "We are encouraged to bring our children for vaccination because it is good for them," she said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that pneumonia is the single largest cause of death in children worldwide.

Liberia Henrietta Fatoma mit ihrem Sohn Francis Harmon
Henrietta Fatoma waiting for her son to be vaccinatedImage: DW/J. Kanubah

It is an acute respiratory infection that affects the lungs. The lungs are made up of small sacs called alveoli which fill up with air when a healthy person breathes. When an individual has pneumonia, the alveoli are filled with pus and fluid which makes breathing painful and limits the oxygen intake.

Prevention is possible

Pneumonia is caused by a number of infectious agents, including viruses, bacteria and fungi. It can be prevented by vaccination, adequate nutrition and by addressing environmental factors such as indoor air pollution and parental smoking.

The WHO also recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a child's life so as to build up its natural defenses against disease.

WHO wird 60 Gebäude Hauptsitz Genf
The WHO says that pneumonia kills more than a million children under the age of five every yearImage: AP

Pneumonia caused by bacteria can be treated with antibiotics but globally only 30 percent of children with the disease receive the antibiotics they need.

Presidential launch

The vaccination campaign was launched in Monrovia by Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on January 9, 2014.

Meanwhile health officials say they have deployed over 1,000 medical staff in 500 facilities across to administer the vaccine.

Emmanuel Lansana is in charge of the outpatient department at Redemption Hospital. He said there has been a surge in the number of patients since they started vaccinating for pneumonia.

Liberia Vize-Gesundheitsminister
Liberia's assistant health minister Tolbert Nyenswah said more than 100,000 children would be vaccinatedImage: DW/J. Kanubah

"A lot of our patients, our mothers, caretakers, being aware of the dangers of pneumonia, the patients' load has grown more and more," he said.

Child deaths that could have been avoided

Tolbert Nyenswah, assistant minister at Liberia's Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, said they were planning to vaccinate more than 100,000 children. "Last year we lost 7,000 children from pneumonia alone. If we had had this vaccine would have averted a lot of those deaths," he said.

The vaccination program is being sponsored by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization (GAVI), a public-private global health partnership committed to increasing access to vaccines in poor countries. It brings together governments, the WHO, the vaccine industry and private philanthropists.

With this program, Liberia hopes to cut its infant mortality rate.

One of the Millennium Development Goals is to reduce infant mortality for under-fives by two thirds between 1990 and 2015.