Experts on infectious diseases descend on Reykjavik

A poorly childIceland’s capital hosted more than 1,000 experts on pneumococcal disease recently, as experts in the field met to discuss ways to combat the world’s leading bacterial killer.

The 6th International Symposium on Pneumococci and Pneumococcal Diseases (ISPPD-6) attracted scientists, NGO workers, experts and administrators from around the globe to discuss this universal problem which accounts for 1.6 million deaths annually.

Pneumococcal disease is a broad term that covers bacterial infection responsible for pneumonia, meningitis, sepsis and others caused by the Pneumococcus bacterium. The symposium focused on the 10 most common types that account for 62 per cent of the deaths worldwide, although there are more than 90 known strains.

Addressing the Reykjavik symposium, Dr Fred Were, chairman of the Kenya Paediatric Association and member of the Pneumococcal Awareness Council of Experts (PACE), said that the need for new, longer-lasting vaccines was particularly urgent in poor countries, where access to healthcare facilities was a challenge.

Pneumonia and meningitis are just two well-known diseases falling into this category, often in conjunction with AIDs, and more than 800,000 children under 5 years of age die annually from illnesses related to this bacterium.

If implemented globally, Pneumococcal vaccines could possibly save more than 5 million lives by 2030 if a universally deployed vaccine was developed. Hence the importance of the symposium.

“Safe, effective vaccines exist to prevent pneumococcal disease, and improved ones are expected in 2009,” observed Dr Orin Levine, the co-chair of PACE. “We have the scientific knowledge and financial resources.”

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