Friday, January 30, 2015

The seriousness of Pneumococcal Disease in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur, 29 January 2015- The YES to PnD Protection campaign marked the 10th year of Pneumococcal Disease awareness in Malaysia recently at a parent advocacy exhibition at Whitebox Gallery, Publika. The event centered on the call of concerned parents who are calling for the Pneumococcal Disease (PnD) vaccine to be included into Malaysia’s National ImmunisationProgramme (NIP). The theme “Stop Sitting on It!” is a call to policy-makers to recognise the severity of the disease in this country and to take active steps towards providing protection for ALL children of Malaysia.

The YES to PnD Protection Campaign is a bold initiative by Parenting2u, a parent-led programme under MyHealth Outreach, Asian Strategic Alliance for Pneumococcal Disease Prevention (ASAP); and Malaysian Paediatric Association (MPA), aimed at bringing together healthcare professionals, parents and like-minded individuals to urge the Malaysian government to make the pneumococcal vaccine available to ALL Malaysian children by including the vaccine into the National Immunisation Programme.

At the event, the YES to PnD Protection campaign also received an international endorsement from the Confederation of Meningitis Associations (CoMO) in Australia, an international member organisation working to reduce meningitis (a disease caused by the pneumococcus bacteria) around the world. CoMO was founded by Bruce Langoulant, a parent of a meningitis survivor. Through the power of parent advocacy, CoMO successfully spurred the government of Australia to include the PnD vaccine into the NIP of Australia.

“Do not underestimate the power of a concerned parent. We move mountains for our children and will do anything to keep them protected. We at CoMO are extremely proud to endorse the YES to PnD Protection campaign and all the good work they have been doing in Malaysia. Little by little, parent advocacy can make a difference in public policy and create a better future for Malaysia. It is our sincere hope that the Malaysian government will include this live-saving vaccine into the NIP soon,” said Langoulant in endorsing Malaysia’s YES to PnD Protection campaign.

The event that was held in Whitebox, Publika, received encouraging support from various NGO’s and concerned parents. Among present was YB Hannah Yeoh, the speaker of Selangor State Legislative Assembly who is a mother of two, together with Dr. Yong Junina, Consultant
Paediatrician and Datuk Dr. Zulkifli Ismail, Chairman of the Asia Strategic Alliance for Pneumococcal Disease.

Datuk Dr. Zulkilfli Ismail, Dr. Yong Junina together with Consultant Paediatrician and Neonatologist Dato’ Dr. Musa Mohd Nordin, have been instrumental in advocacy efforts on PnD in Malaysia for the past 10 years. “We couldn’t have done it without the help of these doctors, who have lent their unwavering support to the cause, put in extra time and effort to get the word out to the people of Malaysia. It has been a long journey, but with their support, we will continue to pursue the inclusion of this vaccine until ALL children of Malaysia are protected against this cause.” said Chan Li Jin, a health writer and advocate who heads the YES to PnD Protection campaign, during her address.

The event featured various interactive exhibits that displayed the history of PnD advocacy in Malaysia as well as wooden stools where guest could stick their pledge of support. “I first heard about pneumococcal disease in 2005 when a parent shared how he lost his son within 10 days of infection. It shocked me that there was such a devastating disease that could hit children so quickly, and it was heartening to know that we could reduce the risks substantially with vaccination. However, over the years, I continued hearing more stories of parents losing their children or having them hospitalized due to pneumococcal disease.” shared Li Jin during the dialogue session.

This advocacy started with the sharing of a small group of concerned parents, and over the past years it has achieved great heights – from conducting a community study, to collecting 20,000 pledges, producing two white papers and holding various vaccine donations in underprivileged areas. “We have been committed to this journey of advocacy and awareness, but we continuously face a lack of interest and action from our policy makers. This campaign is to drive action: how we can make pneumococcal protection available for all Malaysian children, especially those who cannot afford the vaccine right now because of its high cost? ”continued Chan.

PnD is complex – it causes blood poisoning, ear infections, brain infection and lung infection, which can lead to death and long term disability like deafness. The World Health Organization has estimated this disease kills approximately 0.7 to 1 million children below five every year. This disease is still unrecognised in Malaysia despite wide publicity and our children continue to be unprotected against it. Pneumonia is the 6th main cause of death in Malaysia, with 5% of deaths in 2010 attributed to this disease1.

Over 103 other countries such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Costa Rica have included the vaccination programme as prevention against the disease. In Malaysia, however, it is an optional jab costing RM280-320 in private healthcare centres, hence only children whose parents can afford the vaccine are protected against PnD. In comparison with the rest of the Malaysian population, these are a privileged few, as only a small percentage of 450,000 Malaysian babies that are born yearly are delivered in private healthcare centres.

Unfortunately PnD is a disease which can present unusual symptoms and can progress to cause serious effects in affected children. Often at first glance, doctors are unable to determine the cause of the child’s sickness as there are many challenges to diagnosing the disease leading to numerous consultations and lengthy hospitalisations. Serious infections are a significant financial burden for families in Malaysia and vaccination continues to be theworld’s most important and cost-effective public health measure. The children of Malaysia will benefit because the pneumococcal vaccine will reduce the pain, suffering and prevent disability and death from the disease.

“I support this campaign even though it’s difficult for me to talk about the loss of my son, Aqil, again and again. What motivates me is that my message will help save many other lives. I don’t want to go through what I had to go through when I lost my first born to this disease.” shared Erina Asmawani during the sharing session at the event. Erina, lost her son AqilHamzah to PnD a couple of years ago. Erina hadchosen not to vaccinate her child then because she was told by her neighbourhood KlinikKesihatan that the vaccination was not important.

“We need to let everyone know how important it is to protect your children against this disease. Just like polio, PnD can be eradicated – we need to unite and call for the inclusion of this vaccine into the NIP so ALL children, rich or poor, will be protected against this disease.” said Chan during the call-to-action section of the event.

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