This article, by Sabin Executive Vice President Ciro de Quadros, originally appeared on Impatient Optimists.
When discussing public health campaigns and disease prevention, most people want to immediately jump to the solution – we want a vaccine, a cure, a narrative – so we can stop the cycle of disease and suffering. But we must remember to crawl before we walk, and this cliché could not ring more true than in the world of disease monitoring and surveillance, particularly for a disease like pneumococcal, a deadly bacterial infection that kills more than 1.6 million people annually, including half a million children.
Pneumococcal disease can strike quickly, infecting adults and children alike. It is the leading cause of pneumonia, but can also develop into deadly forms of meningitis or sepsis. The good news is that thanks to robust childhood vaccination programs, we are beginning to see a significant reduction in pneumococcal infections among children. In the Latin America and Caribbean region, routine use of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines for children under the age of five began in 2003, and as more countries use the vaccine a major reduction in cases would be expected over the next few years.
As the threat of pneumococcal infection among young children declines in countries that have introduced the vaccine, the greatest burden of disease will fall on other at risk groups. In the United States, for example, 85 percent of pneumococcal disease cases now occur in adults. Conservative estimates predict that among adults in Latin America, infection rates may be similarly high. As the population ages and lives longer, pneumococcal cases will further rise, causing many more hospitalizations and increasing medical costs.