Pakistan introduces GSK pneumonia vaccine

LONDON, Oct 9 (Reuters) - Pakistan has become the firstcountry in South Asia to introduce a vaccine against the deadlypneumococcal disease in children, with GlaxoSmithKline'sSynflorix selected for the programme.

Worldwide more than 1.3 million children under the age offive are killed each year by pneumonia and in Pakistan itaccounts for almost 20 percent of child deaths, according to theGlobal Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI).

The move comes at a time when healthcare experts are stillstruggling to get polio vaccination accepted in parts ofPakistan, one of the few countries where it is still endemic.

The introduction of Synflorix in Pakistan, which began onTuesday, is possible thanks to GAVI's advanced market commitmentscheme, which provides incentives for drug companies to producelarge quantities of vaccines for poor countries at low cost.

"In Pakistan, with a successful roll-out we can save tens ofthousands of lives," GAVI's chief executive Seth Berkley toldreporters at a briefing at its Geneva headquarters. "It willmake a dramatic difference in life expectancy in the country."

GSK, Britain's largest drugmaker, said it would provide aminimum of 480 million doses of Synflorix to GAVI for programmesagainst pneumococcal disease in 73 developing countries by 2023.

GAVI also has a similar global deal with Pfizer forits rival pneumococcal vaccine Prevnar. The agency choosesbetween the competing vaccines in each country.

GAVI is a public-private partnership backed by the Bill &Melinda Gates Foundation, the World Health Organisation, theWorld Bank, UNICEF, international donor governments and others.It funds bulk-buy immunisation campaigns for poorer nations thatcan't afford vaccines at rich-world prices.

Berkley noted problems with Pakistan's polio eradicationeffort, which has been hampered by mistrust and rejection amonglocal people, but said he expected the introduction of thepneumococcal vaccine to be smoother, and potentially helpful tothe polio campaign in the longer run.

"The government of Pakistan assures us they will doeverything they can to roll out this product," he said. "This isa vaccine that families understand, (along with) the importanceof this disease and children dying, so it actually may help theeffort."

Latest United Nations estimates show that pneumonia accountsfor 18 percent of child deaths globally. In Pakistan more than352,000 children die before they reach their fifth birthday andalmost one in five of those deaths are due to pneumonia.

GAVI said that while pneumococcal vaccines cannot preventevery case of pneumonia they can prevent a significantproportion and have the potential to protect tens of thousandsof children from preventable sickness and death.

(Reporting by Ben Hirschler and Kate Kelland in London andStephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Greg Mahlich)

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