Soon after the birth of her second child, a daughter she named Neema, Tabu Kalama found herself homeless and with no regular income. Ms Kalama had no option but to sleep with her newborn daughter and her 18-month old son in the meagre shelter of palm trees near the beach in Kilifi, in eastern Kenya.
It was June, among the coolest and wettest months there. “I was so worried that the baby would fall sick, and there was nothing that I could do,” Kalama says.
Neema developed a temperature high enough to be fatal for a 3-month-old baby. Ms Kalama had heard about pneumonia and worried that Neema might have this illness.
Pneumonia is the leading infectious cause of death in children worldwide. This disease killed an estimated 935 000 children under the age of 5 in 2013.
Ms Kalama brought Neema to the hospital. After more than a week, including periods when Neema lost consciousness, her baby overcame the illness and was discharged.
Three months later, friends and well-wishers joined together to build the Kalama family a small hut in Kilifi. Today, Ms Kalama ekes out a living by watching over a neighbour’s herd of goats and from additional odd jobs.
Kenya among first to use pneumonia vaccine, PCV-10
When Neema, now 14 years old, fell sick, Kenyan children were not immunized against bacteria that cause pneumonia. In January 2011, following recommendations by the WHO and with the Organization’s technical assistance - plus financial support from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance - Kenya’s health ministry introduced PCV-10. This “ten-valent” vaccine targets ten bacteria that cause invasive pneumococcal disease, a form of the illness that is frequently fatal.
“We know that reaching children in remote rural areas and urban slums is the biggest challenge we face as we move forward on closing the immunization gap and giving all children the opportunity to be fully immunized.” Dr Custodia Mandlhate, WHO Representative for Kenya
Kenya was among the first countries in the African Region to introduce PCV, and the first low-income country to use the ten-valent vaccine. Today, newborns nationwide receive the vaccine in 3 doses at 6, 10 and 14 weeks. Neema’s youngest siblings have all received PCV-10.
Kenya’s push to immunize babies against pneumonia is helping the country advance on the 2025 targets of the Integrated Global Action Plan for the Prevention and Control of Pneumonia and Diarrhoea (GAPPD), released by WHO and UNICEF in 2013. The two agencies have recognized that it is not effective to try to prevent and control pneumonia and diarrhoea separately. Pneumococcal vaccine – a key element of the new integrated strategy- had been introduced in 102 countries by the end of 2013, and global coverage was estimated at 25%.
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