The world’s leading health experts came together in Istanbul to inform and encourage Turkish authorities about the inclusion of pneumococcal vaccination in public health insurance coverage and monitoring of its results.

The world’s leading health experts came together in Istanbul to inform and encourage Turkish authorities about the inclusion of pneumococcal vaccination in public health insurance coverage and monitoring of its results.

Pneumococcal disease is a leading infectious killer of children and adults worldwide. Pneumococcal disease causes pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis and other life-threatening ailments, and kills 1.6 million people - including more than 800,000 children under the age of five — every year. Survivors of pneumococcal meningitis can be left with serious disabilities, including brain damage, deafness, and limb amputations.

Current status and vaccination in Turkey

According to the World Health Organization, pneumonia and meningitis are the major causes of child mortality in Turkey. Accordingly, seven thousand children die of pneumonia alone every year on average. This accounts for 14% of the child mortality for children under the age of five.

In Istanbul for the meeting, Dr. Ciro A. de Quadros, co-chairman of Pneumococcal Awareness Council of Experts (PACE) and Vice Chairman of Sabin Vaccine Institute, said, “Although pneumococcal diseases are preventable, they are unfortunately very common both in Turkey and around the world. There are thousands of people who we can save by vaccination, and it is time to take action.”

Prof. Dr. Mehmet Ceyhan of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Department of Faculty of Medicine of Hacettepe University and Chairman of Turkish Association for Infectious Diseases said, “Unfortunately, the treatment of disease alone is not enough. Pneumococcal infections are becoming more difficult to treat as bacteria become resistant to commonly used antibiotics in our country, which shows us how important the vaccination is.”

Information related to vaccination is also shared at the meeting, suggesting that it is possible to protect children from pneumococcal diseases in an effective and safe manner. The officials mentioned that a new seven-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV-7) became available in 2000 and is currently in use in over 70 countries, and 10- and 13-valent pneumococcal conjugate vaccine formulations are in late stages of development and could be available in 2009 or 2010.

Call for global action

In 2007, the World Health Organization issued a paper encouraging that pneumococcal conjugate vaccine be a priority that needs to be included in national child immunization schemes. While 16 EU member countries integrated the vaccine into their health systems up to now, some countries also put the issue on their agenda. As for Turkey, although the PCV-7 vaccine is available on the market, public health insurance does not cover it.

In conjunction with world’s leading health experts, PACE issued a call for global action asking that states provide the financing required for public access to the pneumococcal vaccine, make vaccine distribution commonly available under the health system, and monitor the results of vaccination.

5.4 million children could be saved by 2030

The PACE Global Call for Action signed by nearly 30 health associations worldwide including the Turkish Association for Pediatric Infectious Diseases is aimed at ensuring availability of the pneumococcal vaccine under an economical and stable pricing policy. PACE estimates that 5.4 million children will have been saved by 2030 if the awareness-raising efforts currently in progress yield positive results.

Dr. Orin Levine, co-chairman of PACE and executive director of GAVI’s PneumoADIP, called on law-makers in Turkey and neighboring territories to take measures against this lifethreatening disease, saying “We believe that increased awareness of this disease and its effects will help us save lives in Turkey and around the world.”