The South African government's recent introduction of two new childhood vaccines has slashed the number of cases of life-threatening pneumonia and rotavirus, yet these successes have been barely acknowledged, says Minister of Health Aaron Motsoaledi. Business Day reports that delivering his budget speech to Parliament, Motsoaledi said there had been a 70% decline in potentially deadly pneumonia in children under the age of five, and a 66% decline in children under the age of two admitted to hospital with rotavirus-caused diarrhoea.
The minister lamented the media and politicians’ lack of interest in his department's programmes for preventing diseases, complaining that curing disease was regarded as a nobler scientific feat than preventing illness. The public discourse placed too much attention on events in hospitals and clinics, he said. "Any one negative event that takes place there is almost immediately regarded as the collapse of the health system," he said.
The government had budgeted R450m a year for pneumococcal vaccines and R200m a year for a vaccine offering protection against rotavirus. These shots, along with the provision of HIV/Aids treatment, had contributed to a significant improvement in SA’s childhood mortality rate, he said.
SA was the first African country to add a new shot for pneumococcal disease to its national vaccination programme for babies in 2009, as well as a new rotavirus vaccine. The Department of Health initially provided Pfizer's PCV7 vaccine, branded Prevnar, which gave protection against seven strains of pneumococcal bacteria. It later switched to PCV13, which protects against 13 strains.
Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children under the age of five worldwide and is responsible for more than 1.1-million deaths a year, according to the World Health Organisation. It kills more children than HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria combined. While most healthy children can fight off pneumonia-causing pathogens, children who are malnourished or infected with HIV are highly vulnerable.
Expanding on the importance of preventative measures, the minister urged MPs to get screened for tuberculosis (TB). He said government’s national TB screening programme, launched by Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa on 24 March, had already identified 3,798 people with TB, of whom 74 had the multi-drug resistant form of the disease. "All those (people) did not know about their TB status before their screening," he said.
[link url="http://www.bdlive.co.za/national/health/2015/05/05/motsoaledi-hails-vaccines-and-bewails-lack-of-interest-in-departments-successes"]Full Business Day report[/link]
[link url="http://www.sanews.gov.za/south-africa/minister-we-need-strengthen-our-public-health-system"]SA government press release[/link]