Pak takes the lead against pneumonia, India debates

At a time when Pakistan is all set to become the first South Asian country to introduce a new vaccine against pneumonia as part of its National immunisation programme, India, which has recorded half of the world's childhood death from the dreaded disease, continues to be embroiled in a raging debate over the introduction of a vaccine.

The pneumococcal vaccine is one of the two anti-pneumonia vaccines available in the market, and has already been introduced in 16 developing countries, mostly in Africa, while Bangladesh plans to introduce it by 2015.

Most of these debates in India have centred around the second available pneumonia vaccine, the pentavalent haemophilus influenza type B (Hib) vaccine, that combines the existing DPT vaccine for diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough) and tetanus with vaccines for hepatitis B and bacteria, which causes meningitis and pneumonia.

This vaccine has only been introduced in Kerala and Tamil Nadu so far, while requests of six other states, according to ministry officials, are at the "final stages".

A pending PIL filed in the Delhi High Court by health activists argue that the government decision was prompted by international vaccine industry and WHO pressures, stating that the disease burden of the Hib infections was very small.

The second vaccine, the pneumococcal vaccine which will be rolled out in Pakistan on Tuesday, protects against several strains of the disease.

Health Ministry officials and experts of the Indian Council of Medical Research however say that India is now ready to introduce at least one pneumonia vaccine.

According to Dr Ajay Khera, Deputy Commissioner, Child Heath & Immunization, MoHFW the Hib vaccine is safe. "We plan to take it up on the national level soon. To be doubly sure, we tried it first in states which have good immunization records and the response has been more than satisfactory," he said.

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