November 22, 2010

A coalition of leading health officials from across the Eastern Mediterranean, including Ministers of Health from the countries of Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria will gather for Prevention of Child Killers: Pneumonia and Diarrhea, a symposium to address the continued burden of pneumonia and diarrheal disease on children in the region. The symposium is the third in a series of regional meetings that began in 2007 to increase access to life-saving vaccines that protect children from the world’s most deadly diseases.

In Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon and Syria combined, more than 15,000 children under age five die each year from pneumonia and diarrheal disease, creating a significant disease burden that accounts for almost a third (28 percent) of all child deaths in these four countries alone. Worldwide, pneumonia and diarrheal disease remain the leading killers of children under age five.

Preventing, treating and protecting children from pneumonia and diarrheal disease are essential to a successful maternal, newborn and child health strategy. Vaccines remain one of the most cost-effective health interventions available, with an economic rate of return expected to rise to 18 percent in 2020. Vaccines also provide important long-term economic benefits. Research indicates that increasing life expectancy in a country by just one year improves labor productivity by four percent.

“Over the last three years we have worked together as a region to discuss ways to better protect our most valuable resource: our children,” said Dr. Najwa Khuri-Bulos, the symposium’s organizer and head of the Division of Infectious Disease at Jordan University Hospital. “The time for action is now. Increasing vaccination rates will not only save lives, but strengthen the health and overall productivity of our citizens.”

While wealthy nations in the region can afford to regularly update vaccination programs and poor countries can apply for international financial assistance, middle-income countries often struggle to introduce new vaccines into their national immunizations programs. As a result many children are not vaccinated against the leading causes of pneumonia and diarrheal disease, leaving thousands of children at risk for infection, illness and death.

In an effort to reduce the burden of pneumonia and diarrheal disease, health leaders at the symposium will look to build upon progress made at the previous two vaccination meetings and take action on the steps necessary to establish greater regional collaboration on vaccination.

“Every day across our region, more than 40 children under five lose their lives to pneumonia and diarrheal disease,” said Dr. Bassam Hijawi, general director of primary health care for the Jordan Ministry of Health. “Together as health leaders we are here to discuss actions that will maximize our regional vaccine purchasing power, helping us to reduce the disease burden and save lives.”

Average costs for pneumonia and diarrheal disease vaccines in the Eastern Mediterranean make it difficult for many lower-income families to afford vaccination, and also limit the number of doses Ministries of Health can purchase for use in government-funded vaccination programs.

“The benefits of vaccination are clear, measurable and immediate,” said Dr. Ciro de QuadrosPneumococcal Awareness Council of Experts (PACE) Co-Chair and Executive Vice President at the Sabin Vaccine Institute. “For countries in the Eastern Mediterranean, less children sick today will translate into a healthier population that will help countries thrive in the long run.”

The pneumonia and diarrheal disease symposium will bring together more than 300 participants from Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, including ministry of health staff, leading pediatricians and professional societies, as well as speakers from the World Health Organization (WHO), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), PACE and PATH. The symposium was jointly convened by the Jordan Ministry of Health and Jordan University, PACE and the Sabin Vaccine Institute.

PACE applauds the Ministries of Health in the region for coming together to discuss actions that can be taken to prioritize vaccination for their citizens. By further increasing pneumococcal, and rotavirus vaccination rates, the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean can accelerate progress toward the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goal 4 and help save millions of children’s lives.

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