DUBAI // Docters yesterday underlined the importance of innoculating children against pneumonia, a disease that kills the greatest number of youngsters worldwide and can be prevented by vaccination.
Five per cent of deaths among under fives in the UAE are due to pneumonia, said Dr Nawal al Kaabi, consultant in paediatric infectious diseases at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi.
Dr Catherine Weil-Olivier, professor of paediatrics at the Paris VII University in France and one of the speakers at the second annual Africa and Middle East Pneumococcal summit, said vaccinating children is "a real objective of public health to extend the benefit of the vaccine so that not only children are protected, but indirectly, the entire population as well".
Dr al Kaabi said that although the pneumonia vaccination is part of the National Immunisation Programme, it is not mandatory. "Many parents don't ask for the vaccine or don't understand how much of a difference it makes." Speaking on the sidelines of the summit, Dr al Kaabi said that the vaccine programme protects children from pneumonia, meningitis, acute otitis media (inflammation of the middle ear) and bacterial infection of the blood. This group of diseases, known as pneumococcal disease, are caused by a specific type of bacteria that is the main cause of death for children worldwide, she said.
"Pneumococcal disease can result in death, but it can also cause paralysis, seizures, hearing loss, mental retardation and learning disabilities," said Dr al Kaabi.
Children under five are the most susceptible because their immune systems lack the antibodies needed to fight infection, she added.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), pneumonia causes more deaths among children than Aids, malaria and measles combined. More than two million children die of pneumonia each year. Unicef has described it as "the forgotten child killer".
Middle ear infections, also part of pneumococcal disease, are the most common disease in children, with 140 million cases diagnosed annually, according to WHO.
Last month, the Ministry of Health introduced the Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine PCV13, which is given to children under two. It is unprecedented in helping to prevent the bacteria that causes potentially fatal illnesses, said Dr al Kaabi.