Jim Dobbin MP, chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Global Action Against Childhood Pneumonia, writes about his visit to Kenya to attend the global roll-out of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine.
Jim Dobbin MP is chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Global Action Against Childhood Pneumonia (APPGGAACP); since the group’s inception in 2007 he has worked to raise the profile of pneumonia and MDG4 in the UK and globally, and has spoken about pneumonia and child health at international conferences as well as helping to write and publish a “landmark report” into pneumonia and pneumococcal disease – the main cause of pneumonia
On Monday February 14th, I was invited by the Ministry of Public Health in Kenya to attend the global roll-out of the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV) in Nairobi in the presence of the President of Kenya. The invitation came because I am Chairman of the Global Action against Childhood Pneumonia All Party Group in Parliament.
This was a momentous occasion. For ten years the Global Alliance for Vaccination and Immunisation (GAVI) and their funding partners which include the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a number of countries including the UK have worked to provide affordable vaccines to the developing world. Kenya marked the first country in Africa to receive the lifesaving vaccine.
The vaccine will help to reduce the burden of pneumonia, which is the leading killer of children globally and in Kenya alone claims an average of 30,000 lives among children under five every year.
But as I found in Kenya, statistics are only one element. The true tragedy comes with the human stories you encounter in countries like Kenya. Although the ceremony to mark the roll out of the vaccine launched by the President was an upbeat and colourful occasion, full of local singing and dancing, I was brought back to reality when I visited a local district hospital and a local health centre and saw for myself the logistics of this serious problem.
In both centres I saw hundreds of babies suffering with diseases and conditions like meningitis, Aids, malnutrition, blood sepsis and pneumonia packed with their mothers into tiny wards. In Mbagathi District Hospital in Nairobi I saw one incubator with three babies in it and one oxygen cylinder linked up to six babies. Outside one ward was an open bin piled up with dirty equipment. This hospital has a catchment area of roughly 380,000 people and 5,000 people receive treatment at any time.
The medical staff at centres like this work extremely hard and when I visited showed great experience, but I imagine managing the problem is effectively almost impossible with such a lack of equipment and infrastructure.
The trip highlighted that in countries like Kenya, one of the more developed African nations, daily life is a totally different experience and countries like the UK need to work with international partners to strengthen their health systems.
I have come back even more certain that the UK must meet its target of spending 0.7 per cent of Gross National Income on aid from 2013. If we can achieve this more quickly then it will mean hospitals like Mbagathi District Hospital in Nairobi can develop the infrastructure they need to support the local population effectively.
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